FEBRUARY 2023 | Volume 224
Photo by Moonrider Productions.
by Mike Lew
Arts Club Theatre Company
In collaboration with Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival and Realwheels Theatre
BMO Theatre Centre
Feb. 9-Mar. 5
www.artsclub.com or 604-687-1644
The Arts Club’s promotional material for Teenage Dick describes it as “Mean Girls meets Richard III.” That description is pretty accurate. American playwright Mike Lew has cleverly transposed Shakespeare’s physically and morally twisted schemer to a contemporary high school in which a young man with cerebral palsy and a bastardized Shakespearean speaking style uses his Machiavellian wiles to get elected class president and brutally revenge himself on his primary tormentor.
Director Ashlie Corcoran’s terrific production showcases a cast of talented young actors who lift this piece far above the simple pastiche and stereotypes that might have resulted in lesser hands. For those who know Richard III, it’s a bonus to see how Lew has adapted the structure and some of the characters of the original, but the play works well even if you know none of those references. As funny and entertaining as it is,Teenage Dick ultimately follows the path of its Shakespearean model. All will not end well.
Richard Gloucester (Christopher Imbrosciano), whose CP limp stands in for Richard III’s hunchback, is smart, well-read and bitter. With the encouragement of his teacher, Ms. York (Jennifer Lines), Richard runs for junior class president against current president and know-nothing alpha-male quarterback Eddie (Marco Walker-Ng), who baits Richard by calling him Crooked Dick. Richard’s asides to the audience reveal his true motives.
He has an ally in wheelchair-bound “Buck” Buckingham (Cadence Rush Quibell) and another potential rival in the class Christian, Clarissa (Elizabeth Barrett). Bullied and unpopular, partly because of his physical condition, Richard elicits some sympathy from us. But in his ambition to obtain his goals, he uses everyone, abuses their trust, and does terrible damage.
At the heart of his plot is Anne (Cassandra Consiglio), Eddie’s ex and a beautiful dancer. He’ll convince her to invite him to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance to revenge herself on Eddie, and she’ll unwisely confide in him. They’re an unlikely couple whose relationship develops in unexpected ways. But Anne’s empathy and sincerity are met at every point by Richard’s hypocritical manipulations. With the help of social media, she, too, will be victimized by his selfish, vengeful ambition.
Imbrosciano is a very impressive Richard. Onstage in nearly every scene, with huge swaths of dialogue, he engages the audience with Richard’s dark wit and wicked self-consciousness, and charms us with his dancing, so we’re rooting for him much of the time despite his tactics. It helps that Walker-Ng, as Richard’s physically imposing foil, Eddie, never overdoes the dumb jock routine but presents a genuinely human antagonist who may also be a dick himself, but feels real pain.
Jennifer Lines has great fun jazzing up Ms. York, making the teacher out to be a wannabe kid herself. Quibell plays Buck with a winning sincerity.Clarissa at first seems like she might just be an airheaded Christian cliché, but Barrett gives the character very funny humanity.
Consiglio delivers a genuine star turn as Anne, the most fully developed character besides Richard. Her outcome proves the most serious indictment of his villainy. Consiglio gives full value to the play’s most powerful and moving monologue. Her dancing (Anne’s ambition is to be a professional dancer) is also a major highlight of the show.
Excellent production values add to the pleasures of Teenage Dick, from ParjadSharifi’s versatile open set to Christine Reimer’s delightful teen costumes. Owen Belton’s sound design and Caroline MacCaull’s projections bring the evils of social media to life on the stage.Although no choreographer is credited, movement director Amanda Testini must be partly responsible, along with Consiglio, for the great dance sequences.This show should be a natural for those elusive young audiences that theatre companies are always trying to capture. But take it from this old guy—the Arts Club’s Teenage Dickis a treat no matter what your demographic.
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