DREAM BOY, About Face Theatre Collective, at Eclipse Theatre. A coming-out play that also features a second coming, Dream Boy is a fervent inaugural offering from this gay theater. Smoothly adapted in chamber-theater style by director Eric Rosen from Jim Grimsley's rhapsodic, quasi-religious 1995 novel, it tells a tale both gothic and down-home decent: two North Carolina teenagers reinvent love as they face new feelings and, suddenly, fear old friends. Shy and smart, Nathan is a new arrival in town befriended and ultimately loved by his neighbor Roy, who gives Nathan an authentic affection to make up for his father's abuse. Capturing the pell-mell rush of youth, the story contrasts the boys' clandestine passion with the transience of long summers, pushy pals, and church socials. (In this heartland romance, the guys even sing hymns after sex.) Apparently serene despite its intimations of incest and homophobia, the action builds to tragedy as Roy and Nathan "leave and don't look back" in an apotheosis that feels earned.

Rosen's staging is as basic as Robert Knuth's clapboard set, seldom hitting a false note--no small feat in a work that ranges from Norman Rockwell to Reynolds Price. Though John Ferrick as Nathan comes perilously close to Gomer Pyle's accent, he almost persuades us he's too good to live. As his protector-disciple, Mike Dailey incarnates ardor. Narrator Kyle Hall efficiently supplies the unobtrusive subtext.

--Lawrence Bommer

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