Off-Broadway Review: “Teenage Dick”

  Photo: Tiffany Villarin and Gregg Mozgala in “Teenage Dick.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.

Photo: Tiffany Villarin and Gregg Mozgala in “Teenage Dick.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic

Playwright Mike Lew characterizes his play “Teenage Dick” as “vaguely from Richard III.” The protagonist of this engaging and quite dark play is high school junior Richard Gloucester (Gregg Mozgala). Richard has CP and likes to speak with a Shakespearean flair and verbiage. His disability and diction have made him the object of verbal and physical harassment. This Roseland High School teenage Dick, like his “Buncback’d Toad” namesake Richard of Gloucester, has problems that transcend his disability: both possess an indomitable vengeful spirit that brings them to deciding “whether it’s better to be loved or feared?” The objectives of Richard’s wrathful behavior at Roseland High are to wrest the role of senior class president from Eddie (an uber-confident and self-possessed Alex Breaux) and date Eddie’s former girlfriend Anne (an effervescent and determined Tiffany Villarin). Aficionados of Shakespeare are on alert.

Mike Lew’s engaging script is a brilliant retelling of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” that captures the pathos and ethos of the 1591-1592 culmination of the Bard’s dramatic four-play saga. Shakespeare’s characters are clearly in evidence. In “Teenage Dick,” Richard’s last name is Gloucester. Barbara “Buck” Buckingham (a resilient and devoted Shannon DeVido) is Richard’s rebellious bestie. Junior class president Eddie, like Edward the Prince of Wales, is Richard’s arch nemesis. Anne, Richard’s “love interest” is the widow Anne. Clarissa’s (a Jesus-loving, overachieving, and self-centered Sasha Diamond) and Elizabeth (a naïve, Marinda Anderson) have perhaps less obvious parallels but play important roles in “Teenage Dick.”

Whether Shakespeare was influenced by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli is debatable. However, his Richard III shows Machiavellian characteristics if not the conviction of the principles promulgated by the “father of modern political science.” Mike Lew, on the other hand, that his Richard (the teenage Dick) is directly influenced by Machiavelli’s “four pathways to power.” Richard’s goal? “The senior elections are upon us and from here I will vault past my inglorious station. Not by a pity vote. Not by campaigning. But by systematically destroying the competition. I’ll take down Clarissa AND Eddie AND hold dominion over all of this school.”

And that is exactly what Richard does. “Teenage Dick” chronicles his machinations and his ascent to “victory.” What this power grab means to his relationships and to his opponents, even to his friends is often unsettling and morally ambiguous. Mike Lew has assembled characters whose conflicts are engaging and believable and the plot these “problems” drive is complex, layered, and relevant to the conversations about the dynamics of bullying. Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s direction is dynamic and he successfully keeps things moving at an appropriate pace. He gives his cast the space to explore their characters in depth.

Gregg Mozgala’s Richard is vengeful, diabolic, damaged beyond repair and incapable of making a meaningful connection to others. He easily seduces Anne, betrays her trust by revealing her deepest secret, and tosses her aside. How Anne reacts to this betrayal is one on the most emotionally laden scenes in the play. Richard’s vengeance does not end with his betrayal of Anne. He needs to make sure that Eddie can in no way regain his power. How he decides to accomplish this concludes the action of the play and provides a significant catharsis. “Teenage Dick” raises enduring questions about power and betrayal, and unbridled vengeance. The answers, important as they are, lay heavily on the mind and on the heart.

 

TEENAGE DICK

The cast of “Teenage Dick” includes Marinda Anderson, Alex Breaux, Shannon DeVido, Sasha Diamond, Gregg Mozgala, and Tiffany Villarin.

“Teenage Dick” features set design by Wilson Chin, costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, lighting design by Miriam Crowe, sound design by Fabian Obispo, and movement coordination by Robert Westley. Alyssa K. Howard is Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Teenage Dick runs at the Public’s Shiva Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday July 29, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m., including Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m. For tickets and information: visit publictheater.org, or call 212-967-7555. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.