“Bully” at the New York International Fringe Festival at the Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre (Closed August 21, 2013)

Written and Performed by Lee J. Kaplan
Directed by Padraic Lillis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After a full fifteen-minute intense visceral, sweaty, and well-rounded pre-curtain warm-up, Lee J. Kaplan launches into his equally intense visceral, sweaty, and well-rounded boxing match with all things bullying. Mr. Kaplan makes it clear that if one is to beat the bully at his/her own game, one needs to be in excellent shape or know someone in better shape to be at one’s back.

Extending the metaphor of boxing throughout his sixty-minute marathon performance, Mr. Kaplan rehearses his history of being bullied from his sixth grade class with Mrs. Dolittle (who literally does little to help Lee other than spew platitudes and stand at the sidelines of abuse) to his present struggles with self-esteem and self-acceptance despite his successful career as an actor and voice-over artist.

Although Lee had a supportive family and his parents affirmed daily they loved him and deemed him their friend, that support was challenged daily in the classroom, in the gym, and on the school grounds. His emotional recalling of the psychological and physical abuse he suffered occupy several “matches” in the “boxing ring” on stage as he “knocks out” what he labels “The Worm,” “The Snake,” “The Boot,” and “The Ringleader” – four experiences he and others being bullied need to face and overcome and know how to handle in the future. These matches affirm important mantras for those being bullied: don’t care about the bully; tell someone about the experiences; and do not blame yourself.

Mr. Kaplan’s script is well-intentioned and is a powerful reminder of the insidiousness of the bullying process and the harmful consequences of being bullied: teenagers (and others) not only lose self-esteem, they also commit suicide at an alarming rate. Bullying is serious. Because of its autobiographical structure, the script does not deal with more contemporary forms of bullying: cyber-bullying, sexting, and other electronic forms of bullying. Despite this shortfall, “Bully” is a convincing reminder of one of contemporary society’s most important torments.

Hopefully Mr. Kaplan’s engrossing and important play will result in action beyond audience applause. Audience members need to leave the theatre empowered to reporting cyber-bullying and committing themselves to be more than bystanders when they witness any form of bullying. For more information about bullying, please visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/.