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Teenage Dick

Now that the winter formal gives way to glorious spring fling we find our rocks for brains hero Eddie—the quarterback--sleeping through his job as junior class president. — Richard Gloucester
teenage dick
Shannon DeVido (Buck), Marinda Anderson (Elizabeth), and Gregg Mozgala (Richard) (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Teenage Dick, a play by Mike Lew inspired by Shakespeare's Richard III is one of the better Off-Broadway productions to open in recent weeks. Presented by the Ma-Yi Theater Company and the Public Theater, and directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, it is brilliantly dramatized and robustly acted.

Here's the story: Richard Gloucester (Gregg Mozgala) is a brainy, ambitious teenager with cerebral palsy. Having served as secretary of the junior class at Roseland High School for three years, Richard decides to run for senior class president against Eddie Ivy (Alex Breaux), the present junior class president and popular football hero. Things get more complicated when Richard starts seeing Eddie's ex-girlfriend Anne (Tiffany Villarin), an aspiring dancer. As Richard grows emotionally closer to Anne, he realizes he will have to decide what's more important to him: his ambition to be class president? Or his love for Anne?

There are three other characters who significantly impact upon the story: the feisty wheelchair-bound Barbara "Buck" Buckingham (Shannon DeVido) who's supposedly Richard's closest friend; the vice president of the junior class Clarissa Duke (Sasha Diamond) who's a devout Christian and over-achiever; and a naïve English teacher Elizabeth York who has a love for the classics and is presently teaching her students Machiavelli's The Prince. All three of these characters will figure into this parable about power and lust and become inextricably entangled in each other's lives.

The casting of Gregg Mozgala as Richard in Teenage Dick is a master stroke. Mozgala, who has cerebral palsy in real-life, doesn't have to affect a physical disability to perform his part. Mozgala simply has to bring himself to the part and perform it with all his theatrical know-how. The result is that his performance (as it was in his previous appearance in the Pulitzer Prize winning Cost of Living) is marked with incredible candor and insight on how it feels to be physically disabled in a culture that has a clear bias for the physically abled.

Teenage Dick is peppered with relevant linguistic equivalents in Richard III, which are pressed into service to greater and lesser success. For instance, Roseland High School is a not-so-subtle nod to the War of the Roses, the school principal's "tower" (his office is purportedly in the shape of a tower) to the Tower of London, and of course the entire dramatis personae chime with figures in Richard III.

Much of the theatrical inventiveness that Lew employs is refreshing and cleverly points up the Bard's original tale. But the play's second half becomes rather too heavy-handed and one can hear clunks in the play's machinery as it careens from comic to horrific moments. One moment we are smiling at Anne teaching Richard how to dance hip-hop, the next moment we are gasping at something that looks like a scene straight out of Dante's inferno.

That said, the play is never boring, pretentious, preachy, or afflicted with any other of the deadly sins of bad playwriting. Instead Teenage Dick, is genuinely entertaining and edifying.

. Wilson Chin's multiple sets cover the bases. The filled trophy case at the opener suggests competition writ large, and the dance studio that envelopes Richard and Anne as they practice their hip hop routines offers good contrast to the institutional classroom look. Robert Westley's choreography is magical for both Richard and Anne's hat duet and Eddie and "Buck's" wheelchair pas de deux at the Sadie Hawkins dance. Nothing but kudos for Junghyun Georgia Lee's costumes. "Buck's tutu worn at the Sadie Hawkins's dance had a fairytale aura and Ann's smart-looking outfits brought out her spirit.

It will be a good day for the theater when more disabled persons are visibly represented on stage. Teenage Dick surely does send out the message that they must be taken seriously and when they are, it's good for all of us.

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Teenage Dick by Mike Lewthat
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel.
Gregg Mozgala (Richard),Shannon DeVido (Buck), Alex Breaux (Eddie), Sasha Diamond (Clarissa), Marinda Anderson (Elizabeth)
Set Design:Wilson Chin
Costume Design: Junghyun Georgia Lee
Lighting Design: Miriam Crowe
Sound Design: Fabian Obispo
Movement Coordination: Robert Westley
Stage Manager: Zach Longstreet<
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
Public Theater-Shiva Theate 425 Lafayette Street
From 6/12/18; opening 6/20/18; closing 7/29/18.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan at 6/23/18 press performance

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