[REVIEW] Choir Boy Adroitly Addresses Intersections of Self-Hatred

"Choir Boy takes place at an elite prep school for African American boys when the emergence of an identifiably gay leader in the school's famed chorus ruffles feathers and shatters closets."

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I just had to go see Choir Boy on Friday night at the Zeidner American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach. It had some of my former students in it, it was written by a Yale University graduate – Tarell Alvin McCraney, and it was directed two of the state’s best dramatists — Norfolk State University’s Anthony Stockard and Virginia Stage Company’s Patrick Mullins. And, they did not disappoint.

I was so glad that I got to see it during an overscheduled Pride week. Choir Boy takes place at an elite prep school for African American boys when the emergence of an identifiably gay leader in the school’s famed chorus ruffles feathers and shatters closets. In the role of Pharus Young, the choir leader, Reggie Doles brought out the nuances and strategies of passing and coming out with panache and believability.

Derrick Moore was especially good in the role of Anthony “AJ” James who played a seemingly conventional baseball player rooming with Pharus. Moore got the sexually confident and supportive friend down “straight.”

The sometimes fatal intersections of self-hatred based on race and sexuality came out in the portrayal of Bobby Morrow by Isaiah Roper. Religious conflicts were delivered via the character David Heard played expertly by Matthew Jackson. Even Ron Newman’s Dr. Pendleton captured the awkwardness of a white teacher brought in to manage the tensions.

In general, the Zeidner stage is a very intimate one, and it helped to give the impression that one was in New York City, and not in the former Princess Anne County. This premier performance, accordingly, garnered an immediate standing ovation with many bravos, which went well beyond politeness for local talent.

Luckily, you can still see Choir Boy — this time, July 8-10, at the Black Box Theatre at Norfolk’s Governor’s School for the Arts. Tickets are available at www.choirboyva.com.

Charles H. Ford, Ph.D., is a Professor of History at Norfolk State University (NSU). He also serves as the Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) at NSU and as Chair of its History Department.