Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
September 5, 2010
Playwright's Theatre of New Jersey has joined forces with Premiere Stages to develop and present Tammy Ryan's new play Lost Boy Found In Whole Foods at the Zella Fry Theatre on the Campus of Kean University.
This notable new work follows the heart-wrenching fortunes of two Sudanese "Lost Boys" (www.lostboysus.org), the optimistic Gabriel and the angry Panther. Refugees from a war-torn country, they have been given an opportunity to restart their lives in America so that they may one day return to the Sudan after they have received their educations in order to reclaim and rebuild their homeland. Sadly, however, they and thousands of other young refugees are given few resources to achieve these lofty goals.
Pittsburgh housewife and single mother Christine meets Gabriel by chance in Whole Foods where he stocks produce by day; he attends community college by night. She becomes intrigued by his life experiences and is moved by an earnest desire to do something for him. Much to the chagrin of her prickly daughter Alex, she invites him into her home, agrees to mentor him, encourages him to complete his education, and assists him in finding his mother, believed to still be living in a refugee camp in Kenya. Alex slowly bonds with the admirable young man as well by tutoring him in English composition while listening to stories of his childhood in Africa. Christine herself goes on a journey of discovery through the myriad of organizations and charities designed to assist refugees in putting their lives back together. She is guided through this maze by Michael (played by a no-nonsense David Farrington) and Segel (an excellent Trish McCall) and is confronted by the frustration of complications, setbacks, and delays. This is compounded by Gabriel's guarded demeanor and seeming inability to follow through in his educational goals. He has begun to spend all his time working and sends most of his money back to Kenya to assist old friends still in refugee camps there. Desperation can swallow one whole. Still, Christine is determined to make a difference in the world by helping this young man.
In contrast to Gabriel his best friend Panther is older, scornful, and disillusioned. He continually borrows money from Gabriel and cannot seem to avoid getting into trouble.
Warner Miller makes a perfect Gabriel. He is charming and sensitive and has a natural ease that draws and holds the audience's attention. The talented Jamil Mangan is very effective as the surly Panther. He positively seethes with frustration and annoyance at Gabriel's change in circumstance. He also injects a bit of much needed levity into an otherwise tragic and dark story. As Christine's daughter Alex, Alexandra Rivera is a convincing self-absorbed teen whose eyes are opened to the wider world.
The gifted Kim Zimmer as Christine exudes warmth and maternal compassion. The readily able ensemble as a whole gives credence to the script. The play is thoughtfully directed by John Pietrowski and is appropriately costumed by Sarah Cubbage. The set and lights by Joseph Gourley and Nadine Charlsen respectively are simple but effective. The final moments of the piece are particularly lovely.
It was announced at the curtain that Ryan's script is still in development, which I would whole-heartedly encourage. Many of the most powerful events of the story occur offstage leaving the more complex character development and the dramatic action of the script a bit muddled. But the main flaw may be in the rendering of the central character Christine, who is so fully consumed by Gabriel that we learn very little about her outside of her focus on his personal tragedy. We are left with many questions and don't emotionally connect with her as fully as we ought to. I had difficulty too believing her daughter Alex would so eagerly invite Panther back into their home after he fiercely pulled a gun and threatened to shoot Gabriel during a fight. It didn't really ring true. Ryan has, however, given us four unique and intriguing characters. I was left wanting to know more about the full journey embarked upon by each of them.
Lost Boy Found In Whole Foods is assuredly an important story and one that should be told and Premiere Stages and Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey have given us a solid production of Ryan's promising script.