“sExtOrtiOn” at the Fresh Fruit Festival at the Wild Project (Closed July 14, 2013)

By Patrick Thomas McCarthy
Directed by Christopher Caines
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The eleventh annual Fresh Fruit Festival launched its All Out Theatre offerings with Patrick Thomas McCarthy’s “sExtOrtiOn” a complex, multi-layered drama which tackles morally ambiguous themes with a stunning cast portraying equally morally ambiguous characters. In some ways this is an odd “place” for the Festival to begin: the gay characters in this interesting ninety-minute play are neither likable nor lovable (there is a difference).

The only out boy at his high school, Quin Quimby (Joshua Warr) narrates the harrowing tale of sexting gone wrong – terribly wrong. Were his narration merely about teen sexting and the concomitant extortion it often generates, there would be nothing new in Mr. McCarthy’s text and any attempt to stage that script would fall flat. Fortunately, “sExtOrtiOn” is about more than its title suggests.

Eschewing comfortable simplicity for more challenging complexity, ‘sExtOrtiOn” wrestles with the themes of bullying, pack behavior, sexual identity, and teen sexual experimentation. Its strength, however, is its willingness to tackle the weightier issues of motivation and the hidden violence extant on the underbelly of those themes.

The conflicts are equally complex: for example, the audience discovers – in a delicious twist – that bully Buck Cumming’s (yes, the character’s name really is Buck Cummings, played brilliantly by Seth Shirley) conflict with his bully buddy Ben Benjamin (played with equal brilliance by Andrew Gelles) is the central conflict which drives the plot seemingly dominated by outsider Donny Doirko’s (Spencer Scott) sextortion scheme and Bradley Michael White (Justin Garascia) and Brenda Fenton Flair’s (Julia Hochner) BFF-BMW dedicated relationship.

Under Christopher Caines’ careful direction the entire cast, rounded out by Joshua David Bishop (the desperately seeking someone Brent Dodge), Jeff Ronan (the somewhat creepy and culpable Mr. Zee), and Chantal Thomson (the Brittany Gray Valley Girl accomplice in all things friendship) brings Mr. McCarthy’s script to the stage with honest and gracious performances. Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Caines should indeed be pleased to have engaged this dedicated cast. Together, they share a story of how oppressive systems (schools, religious institutions, the military, and sometimes the family) can deprive the individual’s opportunities for self-discovery, self-expression, and self-acceptance. Without these and the non-judgmental and unconditional love that fosters them, all hell can – and often does – easily break loose.

It would be interesting to see this play without the gratuitous sexting scenes. This reviewer understands that witnessing these explicit and often exploitative scenes enables the audience to “see” themselves in each of the characters and in fact comprehend they are “part of them;” however, to witness the scene, then have the character unpack its significance, and then have a narrator rehearse the scene one final time is simply unnecessary. Already a winner, “seXtOrtiOn” trimmed to a lean and mean sixty or seventy minutes could be a b-boy slam dunk.