A powerful and topical play about homophobia and alienation
Teddy Ferrara is based on the final days of American student Tyler Clementi, who took his own life after his roommate filmed his sexual encounter with another man and later streamed it online. One of the play's focal points is the power of social media, but more importantly, the intangible nature of virtual communication.
Teddy, played by Ryan McParland, is a first-year student who leads a double-life as a webcam exhibitionist, attracting fans in online chatrooms. His online identity brings out his sexuality while he struggles to find acceptance even amongst the queer students on campus. He befriends Gabe (Luke Newberry), the sympathetic main character and head of the Queer Students' Group – introducing himself, to comedic effect, as a software programmer. Teddy comes across as 'weird' and 'socially awkward' to his peers, and it's not long before we see him returning to his webcam – the one space where he receives acceptance, albeit in a sexual way.
Luke Newberry as Gabe with Oliver Johnstone. Nathan Wiley as conflicted student Tim. Photographs: Manuel Harlan
On the surface, Christopher Shinn's play seems to ask the question, who do we turn to in times of emotional distress? Who is responsible when a person looks to suicide as the ultimate solution? We are shown intimate scenes of university romance between queer students, surrounding the argument over how to deal with the death of a student. It gets complicated when the characters can't agree on a unified response – and the meandering plot's lack of narrative cohesion never really establishes a solution.
It's a brave play filled with energized performances, and while the story raises many issues at once, none are as fully realised as how the characters communicate. Half of the story plays out like a conventional relationship drama, while the other delves into the effects of homophobia, victimhood and how modern technology has changed the way we communicate our fears and desires. As modern technologies develop, and our dependence upon social media becomes clear, it's important to ask ourselves if this reliance on virtual communication is detrimental to the way we communicate; and how we harness these developments rather than ignore them.
Emotions run high. Luke Newberry (left) and Griffyn Gilligan. Photograph: Manuel Harlan
The subject is heavy, and the issues discussed many – so one has to hand it to the writer and talented cast for tackling such relevant problems in two hours. Overall, Teddy Ferrara is a powerful play about homophobia, and the strong actors portray the subject with wit, dignity and aplomb.