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DARK PLAY OR STORIES FOR BOYS: Review by Robert W. McDowell

IN CARLOS MURILLO’S “DARK PLAY OR STORIES FOR BOYS,” VIRTUAL REALITY AND THE REAL WORLD HIT HEAD ON

Virtual Reality crashes head on into the Real World in award-winning Latino playwright Carlos Murillo’s aptly named DARK PLAY OR STORIES FOR BOYS, which will complete its extended run on April 30-May 2 and May 6-8 in intimate — some might say claustrophobic — confines of Raleigh Ensemble Players’ new Upstairs Studio at 213 Fayetteville St. in the heart of the downtown night-time entertainment district. This is a dark and disturbing drama about the seamy side of online dating, where matches are not made in Heaven, but in Internet chat rooms and parties passionate to hook up may be nothing at all like their online personas. Indeed, those Glamour Shots photos and cheery online identities may conceal volcanic tempers and tendencies to choose violence as a first resort when they don’t get their way.

How various audience members react to DARK PLAY, which debuted in 2007 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the 31st Humana Festival of New American Plays, may depend more on their politics and prejudices than on the intense action that unfolds just inches from some REP patrons’ seats.

DARK PLAY opens in a darkened college dorm room in which Nick (Ryan Brock) and Molly (Lori Scarborough Ingle) lie undressed in a single bed. Instead of savoring the post-coital moment, Nick needs to feed his Internet Jones, surfing the chat rooms in search of new online playmates. Then Molly awakes and asks Nick how he got a belly full of scars. The ensuing flashback, which answers Molly’s question, may come from Nick’s actual experiences as a sexually bi-curious 14-year-old only child or it may be just a product of his warped imagination.

Without revealing too many of the twists and turns of this harrowing journey into the past, expertly navigated by long-time REP artistic director C. Glen Matthews, let’s just say that 14-year-old Nick strikes up an online friendship with another boy, named Adam (Shawn S. Stoner), whose profile announces “I want to fall in love,” by pretending to be the Woman of His Dreams — in the person of his imaginary sister Rachel (Ingle again). When an intrigued Adam finally arranges a face-to-face meeting with Rachel at her place, Nick answers the door and tells a disappointed Adam that Rachel is not at home. But Nick takes the edge off Adam’s disappointment by plying him with a purloined bottle of hard liquor and, well, things happen — wonderful or terrible things depending upon your point of view.

Nick keeps stringing Adam along until, okay, let’s just say that Adam realizes that Nick is an Olympic-caliber B-esser and Adam doesn’t handle that revelation well. Meanwhile, there is an intriguing array of real-world and cyber characters called the Netizens (memorably portrayed in a series of vivid vignettes by Hazel Edmond and Chris Milner) who provide comic or creepy cameos. Ryan Brock and Shawn Stoner give passionate performances as Nick and Adam, and Lori Ingle smoothly alternates between Molly and Rachel.

With this provocative no-frills production of DARK PLAY, Raleigh Ensemble Players adds to its laurels as arguably the Triangle’s most fearless theatrical company. But be forewarned: with a script this intense and subject matter this controversial, performed in a space only a little bigger than the average living room, the intensity level is off the chart.

Raleigh Ensemble Players presents DARK PLAY OR STORIES FOR BOYS at 8 p.m. April 30-May 1, 7 p.m. May 2, and 8 p.m. May 6-8 at the REP Upstairs Studio, 213 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

by Robert W. McDowell

Robert McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review of Raleigh, NC. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

E-mail RobertM748[at]aol.com to start your FREE subscription to this weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter.

Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Reviews

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