TARELL ALVIN McCRANEY — CHOIR BOY — 2015
It probably is not as good, or should I say as best, a play as some critics pretend or assert, but it is an interesting and somewhere invigorating play bringing up fundamental questions in a preparatory school for black boys. The cast is limited for obvious financial reasons but also to get to some concentrated matter and this concentration make sit a tremendous lot more effective?
Boys with boys will always be boys with boys. So, we expect some lack of courtesy, some violence, at least in words, some profane words too, some plain insanity, I mean provocative untrue ranting to make others rave like hell. And it works all the time. All the boys are a dense representation of a school choir with three voices, tenor, baritone and bass. We expect and we get the competition between the members and especially the competition between two tenors for the position of choir leader and first tenor, the one who does the solo performances. There are only two tenors.
The first tenor is the nephew of the principal of the school and as such believes he has rights that others do not have. He is ferociously aggressive end tenaciously disruptive, against both his classmates or choirmates and the only member of the faculty that is white, a historian who is supposed to make them think freely and openly, without any biased presumptions. The nephew of the principal, Bobby, is aggressive with everyone, particularly the second tenor and the white professor, Mr. Pendleton.
The second tenor is gay, and he has just been appointed choir leader for the next year at the beginning and Bobby will be appointed choir leader at the end of the opening year, since the second tenor, Pharus, is a senior and is graduating. You can easily imagine the thickly-buttered slice of cake Bobby is provided with, in this situation: he has the scapegoat he needs to concentrate his hate because it is repressed hate that he expresses in hostile attitudes. His hate has no real object, but anything can become such an object, the gayness of Pharus, or Pharus’s ideas about modernizing the feel and the sound of gospel music.
At the same time this school year, one week or so before commencement, ends with a fight in the showers between an unknown boy and Pharus who does not react and let himself be slightly damaged. The surprise, of course, is the identity of the aggressor. It is David, a younger boy who had become the lover of Pharus and the altercation takes place in the showers when Pharus was performing what we understand is oral intercourse, when someone else enters the showers and David has the violent reflex to beat up his lover to try to appear non-guilty, hence in a self-defense situation.
Apart from this situation, the play is rather blunt. The principal is in no way really assuming his position with authority when necessary and with compassion or empathy when needed. The white professor is not that much innovative, rather a good steam releaser, pressure reliever. He is able to speak to the young men and bring them to some kind of self-learning and mutual exchanges on any subject that could capture their attention. The students are making the real work and presenting their own reflection or research, which in a way enables them to coexist peacefully. But that does not prevent the final violence because the question of manly love is not taken into account collectively. It remains clandestine, something like a love black market among the young men, instead of being addressed by for example the white professor who has the occasion to do so one day when Bobby calls Pharus with a clearly derogative term. It is the type of insult or aggression a responsible educator cannot let go without bringing everyone to attention and sorting out the topic.
And do not believe it would be different if we were in a mixed preparatory school. It would only be slightly more complex since gay boys would deprive the girls of some possible friends.
Interesting, dynamic, but yet very cool, meaning not hot enough on the main topic of the play.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU