By Sheri and Josh Flanders
Sheri and Josh are an interracial, married, Chicago-based comedy writing and performing duo and contributors to ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com. The following conversation was spawned by attending Pride Films & Plays production of “Altered Boy”.
Josh: Altered Boy is a funny, light-hearted, one-man musical and comedy show written by and starring the engaging and charismatic Gerrett Allain, and directed by the multi-talented and preternaturally brilliant Jeff Bouthiette. (Full disclosure: Sheri & I have both worked with Jeff on a musical we wrote, so we may be biased.)
Sheri: Also, Jeff is my boss at The Second City.
Josh: So, you’d better say something good or you’re gonna get fired.
Sheri: Jeff, you’re the best. Your smize is amazing. Happy Bosses’ Day! Actually, this review is doubly tricky, because we are two hetero people reviewing a work that is heavily centered in gay culture. Let’s not screw this up, Flanders.
Josh: I hope after a lifetime of summers in Provincetown with my family that my gay street cred is fairly solid.
Sheri: The audience for Altered Boy was very much like a P-Town crowd. Mostly men aged 40+, all with glorious salt and pepper hair, hardcore rocking the suave silver fox look. I really enjoy seeing plays where the majority of the audience is anything other than old, straight and white. It’s always a sign that the work is going to have a different take on the world.
Now, on to the play…
Altered Boy is a coming-of-age story about a young man raised in a strict, Catholic household. As he gets closer to God, he becomes closer to the truth about his own sexuality. The story is told through a wonderfully diverse mixture of song, dance, video and character monologues.
Josh: Garrett Allain is delightful to watch for the entire hour and successfully shifts between different characters and time periods. I love the intersection of culture, the Cajun lifestyle of Louisiana, the Catholic Church and its youth services. These aspects of his life are all new to me, growing up Jewish in the suburbs of Chicago.
Sheri: The recurring bit where he plays a youth pastor who naively repurposes filthy songs, like R-Kelly’s Pony, in the service of the Lord with cringe-worthy results is especially enjoyable. It earned at least three laugh-snorts from me.
Josh: Yes, high-energy numbers like the youth pastor bits, and the closing song “GAMS” (new vocabulary word) is where Allain shines. He connects with the audience when playing over-the-top characters as well as when he delivers more subdued, earnest monologues and stories.
Sheri: Agreed. The first truly earnest moment doesn’t come until we are roughly a third of the way through the show, and then things gain great momentum and he fully wins the audience over. Before that, the show has a cheeky tone which, while funny, delays that visceral connection. But that also might have a bit to do with the physical distance of the stage from the audience which diminishes the intimacy desired for a one-person show.
Allain makes great use of video to help tell his biography. This tool adds poignancy and humor to the culmination of his sexual awakening. This unique illustration presents the moment in a creative way I had not seen before. I won’t give away the device, but it is a really spectacular take on well-worn territory.
Josh: This musical is a pastiche, with many aspects working very well and some leaving me wanting more. At one point, mid-musical, Allain puts on a wig and I thought, “Oh, he’s going to do an imitation of his mother,” whom he has just set up with a very interesting and complex story about her divorce. But instead he portrays a character with less emotional impact.
Sheri: As someone who was also raised in a conservative, religious household, I really connect to the rich parts where he examines his upbringing. But by the end, we are left unsure as to his new relationship with religion. It isn’t clear if he is still a believer or not, or if he has transformed and come to some new understanding of religion in his life. That crucial golden thread is dropped leaving the title part of the story unfinished, and not in that purposely ambiguous way.
Josh: The first half is spent in his childhood and adolescence, but the show is most interesting when dealing with his adult life. This is where the audience fully connects to his biography. The fairly universal childhood biography could be enhanced through more specificity and an adult analysis.
Sheri: At one point in the second half he briefly mentions that he had never been part of a “couple” but instead found himself in (new vocabulary term) a “thrupple,” or three-person relationship. I would have liked to have heard more about how he reconciled this emotional transition, coming from a religious background.
Josh: All in all, Altered Boy is a funny, real, slice-of-life peek into Garrett Allain’s life. This charming actor with great range is someone to definitely keep your eye out for in Chicago theater. Audiences of all orientations will identify with and appreciate his triumph in the eternal struggle of “adulting.”
Sheri: Yes, parishioners, Altered Boy is worth your tithe. Jeff, you did an amazing job as per usual. And Garrett, I absolutely agree, bachelorette parties are absolutely the WORST.
Pride Films & Plays presents “Altered Boy” through December 30 at The Buena at Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.