By Dave Deveau. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. Presented by Zee Zee Theatre, in association with Screaming Weenie Productions. At the PAL Theatre on Friday, October 23. Continues until November 1
Remember the name Amitai Marmorstein. This guy is going to be a star.
In local playwright Dave Deveau’s new script Nelly Boy, Marmorstein plays a biologically male 15-year-old who doesn’t want to identify as either male or female. Following a crisis with his family, Nelly is found wandering naked on a highway. For the bulk of the play, we watch as he spars with an older male interviewer, who could be a therapist, cop, lawyer, or none of the above.
Nelly speaks like a philosopher: “Perception rules over intent, according to the gospel of my father.” And, as written, he’s a bit of a poseur: “I’ve sworn off paper towels—for the environment.”
Marmorstein makes the most of the character’s fierce haughtiness, and he adds a compelling physical vocabulary. When Nelly needs to assert his femininity, he wraps himself in a drag queen’s affectations. And, in a classic gesture of the oppressed gay man—not that the character is necessarily gay—Nelly folds in on himself defensively and clutches a string of invisible pearls. Most importantly, Marmorstein endows the often abstract script with a tenderness that reveals itself in quick looks and small smiles. This actor is fantastically responsive; as you watch him listening to his scene partner, you can often see the impact of a single word.
Allan Zinyk plays the interviewer and, in flashbacks, Nelly’s father. Zinyk is emotionally present, but his task is limited. He spends most of his time as the interviewer, asking questions.
There’s the rub. Deveau’s script is smart, heartfelt, and sometimes funny. However, it is largely a one-sided complaint about how the uptight world oppresses Nelly. Yes, loneliness is a huge, and potentially fatal, factor for the gender variant, but there’s fall-out from the playwright’s narrow partiality: Nelly starts to look like a whiner and the script gets circular. Because he’s guarded and the other characters are clueless, Nelly tells his story in miserly tidbits, and it takes forever.
The script also feels more literary than dramatic at times. “As I continue through the labyrinth of suburbia, my weight shifts from one foot to the other,” Nelly says. Who talks like that? If Deveau wants to work with heightened language, he might consider enriching his abstractions with more sensual imagery and dramatic plot points.
Under Cameron Mackenzie’s direction, the design elements as well as the performances come together. Jergus Oprsal’s lighting uses hideous fluorescents and warm washes in a busy but evocative design. Marina Szijarto’s black-and-white minimalist set is a mini-symphony of textures—from the white gravel on the roadside to the clear plastic chairs in the interview room. The aesthetically sensitive of all genders will love it.