Playwright: Mike Lew
At: Theater Wit ( on line streaming only ) Tickets: TheaterWit.org; $28. Runs through: April 19
In a smart move before shutting down, Theater Wit video recorded a live performance of Teenage Dick, now offered on line as a pay-per-view attraction. Teenage Dick and 16th Street Theater's Methtacular! are the only two complete
Teenage Dick does NOT mean what some WCT readers might hope it means: It's Shakespeare's Richard III adapted to a contemporary U.S. high school setting. Shakespeare's evil Richard, a major figure in England's Wars of the Roses, is determined to become king by hook or crook. In Teenage Dick, playwright Mike Lew reinvents him as 16 year old Richard ( MacGregor Arney ), a student at aptly-named Roseland High School determined to become class president by hook or crook. Shakespeare's Richard is a disabled hunchback.
Lew's teenage Richard has cerebral palsy that restricts his use of an arm and leg, although he can walk and even dance, as seen in one of the play's highlight moments. Shakespeare's key characters have counterparts in Lew's play, although several have become women.
Richard plots to defeat the incumbent class president, Eddie ( Ty Fanning ), who is an arrogantly empowered football hero. Eddie is every bit as nasty and manipulative as Richard, although Lew gives Eddie an unexpected change of heart at the end. It's no surprise that the students have been studying Machiavelli.
The big difference in Teenage Dick is that Lew provides Richard with an actual relationship with a worthy girl, Anne Margaret ( Courtney Rikki Green ), who embodies several women seen only briefly in Richard III. It's an unexpected complication, not just for Richard but also for viewers following the Shakespearian parallels. Baring her own emotional wounds, Anne shatters stereotypes to see Richard as a person, thereby offering Richard an opportunity to reform, grow and engage honestlyeven romanticallywith others. Her expanded role, Lew tells us, is a deliberate contrast to Shakespeare's often perfunctory female portrayals. At the end Richard again proclaims his villainy, but we aren't certain whether he's telling the truth or not.
All that makes a good play by itself, but it's not why Mike Lew wrote Teenage Dick. His intent was to call attention to issues confronted on a daily basis by persons with disabilities, and at least one actor in the production and the director are such persons. The play is quite effective in humanizing individuals we sometimes try to avoid staring at or meeting, although one size does not fit all among persons living with disabilities.
Even viewed via streaming video, it's a very effective production, directed by Brian Balon. As Richard, MacGregor Arney does stellar work in a grueling role which keeps him onstage almost every second of the play's 100 minutes. And kudos to Courtney Rikki Green for her highly vulnerable interpretation of Anne Margaret.