Having previously offered us a revival of Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg, a beautiful, achingly poignant portrait of gay British lives in the shadow of AIDS that subsequently transferred to the West End, the Donmar Warehouse now gives house-room to a sprawling but meaty new American play about a younger, newer generation of gay men (and, peripherally, a lesbian and transgendered man as well).
Christopher Shinn's Teddy Ferrara, set on a large unnamed American university campus (we are only told there are 40,000 students there), centres on three of them: Gabe, a student activist who is setting up a gay student group and thinking of running for student assembly president; his boyfriend Drew, who is editor of the student newspaper; and an outsider student called Teddy Ferrara, whose social awkwardness in person is counterbalanced by the confidence of his online persona.
Shinn sends them on a sometimes dizzying set of collisions with each other and others on the campus, to provide detailed, layered portraits of their lives and examine the differences between the rhetoric and the reality of acceptance.
As Drew pursues a story to reveal the reasons for a student suicide on campus, another one suddenly happens, and questions arise around self-oppression (the first wasn't known to be gay) and bullying (the second was).
Shinn's play is dense on narrative development, and sometimes feels like it might have been written for television, with its episodic cross-cuts between different locations. Director Dominic Cooke, who previously directed two of Shinn's plays when he was artistic director of the Royal Court, keeps it driving forward with a gripping intensity, and Hildegard Bechtler's design provides a versatile arena for it to play out on.
A wonderfully convincing cast lend it authenticity and power, with particularly affecting performances from Luke Newberry's as Gabe and Ryan McParland as Teddy, and an intentionally unlikeable one from Oliver Johnstone as the manipulative Drew. There are also two strong American actors, Christopher Imbrosciano as the wheelchair bound Jay and Griffyn Gilligan as the transgendered Jaq, and impressive performances from Matthew Marsh and Nancy Crane as the university officials.
I was gripped throughout, but also found it relentless and overloaded.
"While Shinn’s play has a lot to tell us, it seems too palpably issue-driven and never allows its characters the freedom to discuss anything much beyond campus politics.."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"The trouble, though, is that not even Dominic Cooke's astonishingly well-acted production can make you care, on your pulses, about the participants in Shinn's sociologically provocative but over-controlled drama."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Dominic Cooke’s ambitious production is sensitive to the absurdities of campus romance but the sheer abundance of ideas means it lacks focus ."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard