Characters, complex plot stymie Coram Boy
Adapted from Jamila Gavin’s novel by Helen Edmundson. Directed by Bernard Cuffling. A United Players production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Thursday, September 11. Continues until September 28
United Players’ production of Coram Boy is ambitious, but only fitfully successful.
Helen Edmundson based her script on Jamila Gavin’s epic children’s novel, which is set in the mid-18th century. An aristocratic boy named Alexander Ashbrook runs away from home when his father refuses to let him study music anymore. Alex, who is a young teenager himself, has impregnated 15-year-old Melissa, leaving her vulnerable to the evil Otis Gardiner, who takes babies from desperate young women—for a fee. Gardiner promises to deliver the infants to an orphanage called Coram Hospital for Deserted Children (a place that really existed in the 1700s), but buries them instead, alive if they’re not dead already. The second half of the story follows the fate of Melissa’s baby Aaron, who is saved from Gardiner, and Aaron’s best friend Toby, whose mother was an African slave.
The first act of the play is so busy setting up the complicated plot that it’s impossible to focus and Edmundson wastes no time with frills like character development. As a result, Act 1 is boring. The threads come together more compellingly in Act 2, but the story is still wildly melodramatic and sentimental.
To really make the script work, you’d need genius professional actors who can create compelling characters out of thin air. Because so much of the play is about music, the actors should also be gifted singers. And an orchestra would be nice.
United Players is an amateur company with neither the depth of talent nor budget to carry this off. Spencer Wallace, who plays the young version of Alex, shows promise, Tariq Leslie is effectively wicked as Gardiner, and Missy Cross delivers a compelling performance as Gardiner’s son Meshak.
There are strengths elsewhere, too, but not enough of them to make the centre of this behemoth hold.