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Bob Goepfert Reviews "The Boy in the Bathroom" at Adirondack Theatre Festival

If you enjoy theater that makes you think and feel, you will truly appreciate “The Boy in the Bathroom,” playing at Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls.  The characters and situation will stay with you for a long, long time.

This is the third season at ATF for Producing Artistic Director Chad Rabinowitz, who also directs this production.  There are two things he’s made clear in his tenure – he loves quirky musicals and is not afraid to take risks.

“The Boy in the Bathroom” fits that mold.  It’s a three-person, 90-minute work about a young man who has locked himself in a bathroom of his mother’s house for over a year.   The mother feeds him by sliding food under the door, and patronizes him as he claims he needs to stay in the bathroom for privacy in order to finish his thesis.  When the mother falls on ice and breaks a hip a young attractive woman comes to clean the house while the mother is at physical therapy.

A conventional show would have the two make friends, develop a relationship which would encourage the boy to open the door.  The three would sing a joyous song that paints a rosy future for everyone.

Not “The Boy in the Bathroom.”  Yes, the two do establish a connection with knock knock jokes, invent ways to play chess and other board games and build a bond.  However, because the boy, David, is so damaged there is never a hope for a happy ever-after.

I should make the point, that though “The Boy in the Bathroom” is not a frothy happy-go-lucky musical, neither is it depressing.  It’s a penetrating look at Obsessive Compulsive Behavior and how damaging it can be – especially when the parent is more damaged than is the son.   It’s a work that is in the mold of “Fun Home” and “Next to Normal,” one that uses a painful situation to offer compelling theater.

Excellent performances elevate the production.  Alex Wyse portrays David as a fragile person who is desperate for a safe place in life.  It’s a marvelous performance that uses the young man’s vulnerability to make him a figure about whom we care.   Janet Krupin is charming as Julie the girl who befriends him and forms an emotional connection with Alex.   She finds the innocence of a woman who drifts into a relationship and becomes a healer just by being a friend.

The most revealing and complicated character is the mother, Pam.  Seemingly patient with her son, you wonder about her enabling.  Soon you suspect the situation is more than a protective mother-son relationship.  It begins to appear that his willing imprisonment is one that feeds her own sad needs.  

As Pam, Catherine Shaffner offers a portrayal that is able to suggest the woman is a horrible mother, but she somehow prevents the large woman from appearing monstrous.  Indeed with her solo number, “I Want More,” the depth of her pain is revealed so deeply you don’t know whether to have pity for her or be repelled by her. It’s a brave, brave performance.

It’s also the musical highlight of the show as well.  It’s the most vivid example of how Joe Maloney’s music and Lluberes’ lyrics work to heighten the emotion of every scene. The score is pop based, but often it strives for the emotions of opera.

Despite the many strengths of the work, there is not yet a sense of completeness about the finished product.  More work needs to be done on the character of Julie, who at this point seems a device rather than a fully-developed real person, one who would emotionally commit to Alex so easily.  

Most important, the work needs hope.  There is a sense of inevitability about the situation that makes it easy to disengage with the young couple.  Only the most ardent optimist would see the two together or believe that Alex’s life would improve if and when he leaves the bathroom.

However, the skeleton for a superior piece of theater is here.  “The Boy in the Bathroom” is a work that should be experienced.   

“The Boy in the Bathroom” at Adirondack Theatre Festival, Glens Falls.  Performances through August 4.  For tickets and information call 480-4878.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management. 

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