“The piece is supposed to be a complete picture of who Teddy was, right?”
You can almost feel the checklist of issues ready to be ticked off as we go through Christopher Shinn’s gay student play Teddy Ferrara and its dramatis personae – the president of the Queer Students group, the campaigning journalist, the faux-liberal authority figure, the one in the wheelchair, the transgender one, the hot, maybe closeted straight guy… And sure enough, each issue gets its moment in the spotlight, the show being faithfully representational to the last.
But issues alone do not a good play make. And though Dominic Cooke’s production for the Donmar looks good and is powerfully acted, it never truly engages the emotions, it never converts those issues into believably human stories. Which is particularly pertinent as the main inspiration for Shinn was the real-life case of Taylor Clementi, a student who took his own life after his college roommate broadcast webcam footage of him kissing another man.
Shinn uses this sad story as a springboard to explore the tangled web of LGBT experience in the ostensibly post-homophobia world of refined campus politics in light of their own suicide(s). Gabe (Luke Newberry), the hugely ambitious president considers himself above individual cases, his boyfriend Drew (Oliver Johnstone) wants to exploit the case for a front-page splash, and the college president (Matthew Marsh) is desperate to show he’s learnt from his inclusivity training yet remains incredibly tactless.
But as issues of cyber-bullying and online responsibility, the ethics of modern journalism and the insular world of identified victimhood as prescribed by the campus mindset (with all its triggers and micro-aggressions) jockey for prominence, the search for the ‘right’ kind of tolerance remains an academic exercise, there’s no sense of down-and-dirty realism to the student experience here, no hint of real life underpinning those issues which are so painstakingly dissected and thereby making us care.