Chicago Theatre Review
The Sweetest Thing
Choir Boy at Raven Theater
At the Charles R. Drew Prep School for boys decorum rains supreme. Headmaster Marrow (Robert D. Hardaway) demands that every student do his best to be true Drew men, and succeeds inspires in inspiring them. For the most part. A particular headache comes from his lead tenor in the acclaimed school Choir, Pharus Jonathan Young (Christopher W. Jones), a greatly talented and very “sweet” young man. His misadventures with the student body, particularly his rivalry with Marrow’s ne’re-do-well nephew Bobby. Despite the harmony of the boys voices Pharus’s pride leads to discontent from more than one quarter, and disaster seems to swing closer everyday.
Raven Theater Director Michael Mennedian fits playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy like a hand in a glove. McCraney’s subtle story blossoms with a mounting fragrance of surprise. It possesses a marvelous ear for language; an alloy of Tom Stoppard philosophy and the brilliant repartee of August Wilson. A particular chemistry fizzes in the rivalry between Bobby and Pharus: the cool rebel and trend setter taken down notch after notch by a very reverent but cocky deviant (imbued by Jones with wit, grace, and sauce). Bobby’s companion Junior (Julian Terrell Otis) has an excellent turn for humor and a fine, piercing tenner. Anthony Justin James (Tamarus Harvell) provides a warm touch to the piece as Pharus’s roommate, and nominal ally, joshingly keeping up with his pranks, while David heard (Darren Patin) keeps to his ridged walk with the lord, unwilling to sully himself in the all too secular air. All these are watched over and guided by Hardaway’s driving spirit and laser-intense focus and the ministrations of Mr. Pendelton (Don Tieri) a sometimes doddering white professor brought in to teach the young men how to think.
It is often sadly the case that a gay man in a tradition bound and highly masculine environment lives with one foot in trouble and the other on a banana peel. With every passing scene the danger we feel for Pharus mounts, even amid the beautiful spirituals the Choir shuffles out and sings loud. Yet we are behind this sweet young man all the way: in one scene when Headmaster Marrow disapproves of his limp wrist, he doggedly executes an air show of movement, quietly proving his pride and cementing our respect and affection for him. And that’s just one note in a captivating masterpiece.
by Ben Kemper
Raven Theater 6157 N. Clark (off Granville Redline)
10/6-11/12 Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 Sundays at 3:00.
85 Minutes without intermission.
Tickets $46 ($43 when purchased online). Seniors and teachers at $41 ($38 if purchased on line. Students, active military and veterans at $15. Under 30 year olds at Under 30 Thursday’s can get tickets for $15.
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