Theater review by Raven Snook
Gregg Mozgala is a winner of a malcontent as the title character in Teenage Dick, Mike Lew’s sharp modern-day reinvention of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The actor, who also starred in last year’s Cost of Living, has cerebral palsy, and his disability is used to devastating effect in this tragicomic tale of an alienated adolescent bent on using Machiavellian means to climb the social hierarchy of his suburban high school. A coproduction of Ma-Yi Theater Company and the Public Theater, the play more or less follows the Bard’s main plot points as the long-bullied Richard campaigns to become senior class president by manipulating everyone in his path, including jerky jock Eddie (Alex Breaux, in his usual bro mode), devoutly religious Clarissa (Sasha Diamond), touchy-feely teacher Elizabeth (Marinda Anderson) and even his wary pal Buck (scene-stealer Shannon DeVido). Buck is also disabled—DeVido uses a wheelchair—but she is much better adjusted and challenges Richard’s notions about what to expect from life in an ableist society.
Richard’s wooing of Eddie’s ex, Anne (the touching Tiffany Villarin), an aspiring dancer with a sensitive secret, deviates from the source material to become the heart of the show; after the breakneck and comical first half, their tentative romance shifts the tone. Lew’s script, which was commissioned by Mozgala, is suffused with Shakespearean references, but you don’t need to brush up on Richard III to get most of the jokes, which tend toward the raunchy. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God) is adept at toggling between humor and heartbreak, as is the impressively diverse six-member cast. Ultimately, however, Mozgala is the one who rules the stage, drawing us in with his charm and repulsing us with his machinations. His talent is fit for a king.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By Mike Lew. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. With Gregg Mozgala. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.