By Hedy Weiss
When: Through March 3
Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Info: (312) 443-3800; www.GoodmanTheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission
Were I a student at "the large state university" that serves as the backdrop for "Teddy Ferrara," the Christopher Shinn play now in its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre, I would be driven to protest the lack of old-fashioned intellectual engagement being carried on at the school. I would object to the fact that the most crucial function of the university was being completely eclipsed by issues of sex, lies, webcamming, texting, sexting, and politics of both the ordinary and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) variety. I might even be tempted to demand a tuition refund.
But without all these distractions, there would be no play. The raison d'etre of "Teddy Ferrara" -- which telegraphs its every message, even if from time to time it puts a redeeming twist on well-worn stereotypes -- is to explore the pain, alienation and provocation of those outside the sexual mainstream. Of course the ubiquity of social media and its viral potential for doing harm only up the ante. And plenty of heterosexual college kids aren't all that happy or socially well-adjusted either.
Drawing loosely on the 2010 case of a Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate made and promoted a secret webcam showing him having sex with another man, Shinn spins a story of "poisonous" attitudes towards gays and others on campus. Yet in many cases the fault lies within themselves far more than their sexual orientations.
Gabe (Liam Benzvi) is the earnest senior who runs the university's Queer Students Group and is vying for Student Council president. His new boyfriend is Drew (Adam Poss), the sexy, dangerously manipulative editor of a campus paper who has been digging up dirt about a student suicide a year earlier with the help of his much-abused reporter, Nicky (Rashaad Hall), another decent guy. A distraction for both Gabe and Drew is Tim (Josh Salt), a seemingly straight guy with a girlfriend, Jenny (Paloma Nozicka).
Enter Teddy (Ryan Heindl), who appears to be a lost, lonely, slightly weird Freshman. As it turns out, he has a very active online sex life and a serious proclivity for sexting. His roommate will expose him on video and he will do just as that Rutger's student did. Should more attention have been paid?
Meanwhile, the university president (Patrick Clear, terrific in priceless Joe Biden-mode), is hoping to launch a senatorial campaign soon. And, in league with the provost (Janet Ulrich Brooks), he struggles awkwardly (even comically) to manage the ever-escalating campus scandals being orchestrated by his arch-enemy, gay activist Ellen (Kelli Simpkins).
Along the way we also meet the seemingly balanced Jaq (Jax Jackson), and Jay (Christopher Imbrosciano), who is both gay and handicapped, and whose treatment by the other gay students is neatly hypocritical.
Directed by Evan Cabnet, the large cast is effective. But from the start, the writing is on the wall, and we've read it many times before.