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From March 26 to April 13, The StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Communication Studies, will present the regional premiere of Dream Boy in Swain Hall Studio 6 Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill. Chicago playwright Eric Rosen's powerful script is a prize-winning stage adaptation of Atlanta novelist, playwright, and creative-writing teacher Jim Grimsley's provocative story, set in the 1970s, about a rural Eastern North Carolina farm boy who falls in love with the bright new boy who moves in next-door.
This tender tale of first love between Roy (Vince Eisenson) and Nathan (recent high school graduate Alex Bonner) takes some terrifying twists as the boys endure homophobia, violence, and hideous ghosts from Nathan's past.
In preshow publicity, Grimsley said his 1995 novel and Rosen's stage adaptation "deal with young love in a real and vivid way. A boy named Nathan, who has a lot of family problems, meets a boy named Roy. They fall in love and they deal with a lot of issues that that raises in the South. Boys aren't supposed to do that down South."
Grimsley and Rosen are both North Carolina natives and graduates of UNC-Chapel Hill. The 1994 winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (for his first novel Winter Birds) and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, Jim Grimsley won the American Library Association's 1995 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Book Award for his second novel, Dream Boy. Dream Boy also was a finalist for that year's Lambda Book Award.
"I've never read a novel remotely like Dream Boy," wrote North Carolina novelist Reynolds Price (Kate Vaiden), "and my admiration for Jim Grimsley's power is widened and deepened."
Dream Boy adapter Eric Rosen is the founding artistic director of Chicago's critically acclaimed About Face Theatre Company. Previously performed in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco, Dream Boy won numerous Joseph Jefferson Awards (in Chicago), including Best Production and Best New Work.
StreetSigns associate artists Chris Chiron and Elisabeth Lewis Corley will play Nathan's nightmarish parents. The rest of the ensemble will be making their StreetSigns acting debuts. Besides Bonner and Eisenson, the newcomers to StreetSigns include Blake Bradford as Burke, a dangerous bully; Wade Dansby as Burke's bewildered sidekick Randy and also as the local preacher; Annissa Clarke as Mrs. Connolly (Roy's mother); and Nicole Quennelle as Hannah, a friend from school who befriends Nathan.
With this production of Dream Boy, director Joseph Megel will make his main-stage directorial debut with StreetSigns. The new director of StreetSigns' New Works Initiative, Megel formerly served as artistic director of Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey for six years. He previously directed the New York premiere of The Lizard of Tarsus by Jim Grimsley.
"When I was artistic director of Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey," Joseph Megel told Robert's Reviews, "an actor and friend of mine at the theatre recommended that I see a Jim Grimsley play, Math and Aftermath, produced by Elisabeth Lewis Corley in New York City, because he thought I'd be a good director for Jim Grimsley's plays. When I went, I was so enchanted with both the playwright and Elisabeth, who was also acting in the play, I ended up oarrying her and directing the next Grimsley play she produced in New York City, The Lizard of Tarsus."
Megel adds, "As I worked more with Jim Grimsley's work, I became a great admirer of his novels. I thought in particular that his novel Dream Boy would be great on stage. At that time, Eric Rosen... was already adapting and producing Dream Boy. He developed it at Northwestern University, and directed it at Seven Stages in Atlanta and About Face Theatre in Chicago.
"When I moved to North Carolina and started working with StreetSigns theatre and Derek Goldman, I suggested we consider doing Dream Boy," Megel recalls. "Since both Jim Grimsley and Eric Rosen had been students at UNC-Chapel Hill, and since Derek was already familiar with Eric Rosen's work and the Dream Boy adaptation, Derek thought it would be a good idea. By the way, Elisabeth, also a UNC-Chapel Hill alum, is in this production of Dream Boy as well — everything comes around full circle."
Megel adds, "I think the story of love, no matter how impossible, eventually rising over hatred and fear is very compelling to me. The love story of two boys, Nathan and Roy, in Dream Boy, much like that of Romeo and Juliet, is destined for so many reasons to be crushed, yet at the end, Grimsley feels that the love is too pure, and I suppose holy, not to be given hope. I especially love the poetry of Jim's prose, which is present throughout this production in the form of a narration that is woven carefully into the play by Eric Rosen....
"Dream Boy takes place in the early 1970s in religious rural Eastern North Carolina, Megel notes. "Nathan, a young somewhat introverted 16-year-old boy has just moved with his parents to a new house, directly across from Roy. Roy is a very popular farm boy who drives the school bus. Nathan becomes immediately smitten with him. In a series of scenes, it becomes clear that Roy is also interested. The relationship grows and must, of course, be hidden.
"As the story unfolds," Megel says, "we discover that Nathan has been sexually abused by his father while his mother stands impotently by. The love affair gives Nathan the strength to remove himself from the threat of his father."
Megel explains, "Roy takes Nathan on a camping trip to an old haunted plantation house with Roy's two school buddies, Burke and Randy. It's in the haunted house, where the relationship between Nathan and Roy is discovered by Burke, where Nathan ultimately faces his demons."
Joseph Megel claims, "Dream Boy exists as a wash of Nathan's memory. It is a very theatrical play and moves seamlessly from place to place, while time shifts and at some points divides. This provides a lot of challenges for the design team. We must create a container for the play that can reflect the poetry and beauty of Nathan's journey. Because the ensemble acts as a group narrator, they are not only responsible for acting their roles, they are responsible for painting the picture of Nathan's journey with words. The solutions to these problems are found through the collaboration of director, actors, and designers."
In addition to director Joseph Megel, the Dream Boy creative team also includes StreetSigns associate artists Rob Hamilton (sets), Steve Dubay (lighting), and Diana Waldier (costumes/props), plus music director SaRAH! Kocz and fight director Stephen Hyers and Chicago-based sound/music designers Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman.
Megel says, "The set is a flexible raked wooden deck. Wooden benches, two swinging panels up stage, and a cyc are used to create all the various locations of the play."
He adds, "The lighting defines area and place. It seamlessly pulls us from one moment to the next as transitions are made."
Megel says the costumes are "realistic... for time and place — the 1970s in Eastern Rural North Carolina." But he warns, "The play is for mature audiences. There is intimacy between two boys on stage, and descriptions of both sexual situations and violent attacks. There is brief cigarette smoking," he quips.
The StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Communication Studies, presents Dream Boy Wednesday-Friday, March 26-29, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, March 30, at 2 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, April 3-5 and 10-12, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 6 and 13, at 2 p.m. in Swain Hall Studio 6 Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill. $14 Friday-Saturday, $12 Thursdays/Sunday, with pay-what-you-can previews March 26 and 27 and student rush, senior discounts, and group rates available. 919/843-3865. http://www.streetsigns.org/, http://literati.net/Grimsley/, and http://www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/CREATIVEWRITING/faculty/grimsley.html [inactive 10/04].