Chicago Theatre Review
Letting Boy Small out of the Cage
Fine Print Theatre’s Boy Small
Playing at The Red Tape Theatre on Belmont is a show called Boy Small, presented by The Fine Print Theatre, written by MT Cozzola, and directed by Patrick Kenney. It is based around the events of Christian Choate, a thirteen-year-old boy whose body was found after he was neglected and abused by his family to the point of death. The production presents a look at what this family might have been like, focusing on the father, stepmother, sister, and of course, the boy. Even though the relation to Christian Choate’s murder is referred to in the playbill and the details very similar to the facts, Cozzola chooses not to keep the real names of these people but instead gives nearly everyone titles like Dad, Sissy, and Boy. The details aren’t quite the same either, but none of the police reports could tell us exactly what was going through the minds of these people who abused their son. The playbill also includes a quote from Riley Choate, Christian’s father, saying ‘All my actions will haunt me forever. I loved my son.’ The show makes the situation complicated, painting no one as a true villain or victim.
The entrance into the space tries to put you in the environment of small town, USA. There is a dirty, empty kid’s pool, empty cans of PBR, dried up leaves, and lawn furniture. This stereotypical depiction of small town America successfully sets the scene of the type of place this family lives. And stereotypes, while not always entirely accurate, do have their routes in truth. I have been to both the small towns of 600 residents where everyone wants to help their neighbor, and the towns where whispers and distain hide behind closed doors. Giving the characters rounded motivation to their actions helps to keep the stereotypes from getting too extreme. In addition, the good hearted people of the town are wonderfully portrayed by Deanna Moffitt, who plays all of the ‘Outsiders’ who are concerned but miss the true signs of neglect going on in this household.
The Boy is played by Stephen Cefalu Jr., and he does a great job of portraying a very perplexing character. He is attempting to play a thirteen-year-old boy, who in this telling of the story, doesn’t seem to be quite normal even without the abuse. He seems to antagonize his family members, and often refuses the food and drink offered of him. In researching the history of Christian Choate, there isn’t really much reference to behavioral issues except for one mention of playing an inappropriate and perhaps sexual game with other boys. The fictional version of the Boy is given no such history, but it is commonly said he has been caged because he will run if given his freedom. Between scenes, Cefalu breaks character and addresses the audience, sometimes talking about the history behind the real Christian Choate or just delivering poetic soliloquies. It is a character and a portrayal that often presents more questions than answers.
The heart of the story is with the Boy’s sister, appropriately named Sissy and played by Taryn Wood. The play takes place in close quarters and Wood’s portrayal of a scared but loving young woman who is left very little choices in life is seamless. Wood’s character is a wonderful example how abuse can bread more abuse, as Dad often threatens Sissy into performing beatings for him. Dad and Sherry, played by Malcolm Callan and Cat Dean respectively delivery good performances, making two very dislikable characters surprisingly understandable.
The production value does the best it can in a converted auditorium with little to no air conditioning. At the beginning of the performance, complimentary bottles of cold water were passed out to make up for the heat in the space. The lighting was minimal but very effective, only really changing between scenes. These changes were nearly always marked with a monologue by Cefalu that ended with him retreating to his cage lit by an eerie green backlight. The sound design, likewise, was unadorned but poignant. The production team certainly deserved praise for utilizing a poor performance space to the best of its abilities.
Boy Small is a very engrossing telling of a true tragedy, but doesn’t paint it as such. The play simply tries to turn monsters into people. It questions the assumptions made in a terrible situation such as Christian Choate’s murder, but doesn’t shy away from some of the stereotypes that surround a small town, trailer park family. Fine Print Theatre’s production of Boy Small is a look from the outside at the case of a brutally murdered boy to question how we can make sense of something so horrific.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Fine Print Theatre presents Boy Small
Playing August 23 – September 22 at Red Tape Theatre, 621 West Belmont, Chicago, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 312.945.7966 or visiting thefineprinttheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.