Geeks Review Books: Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “CHOIR BOY”


TCG book cover

Review of Choir Boy
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Published by Theatre Communications Group (TCG)
New York, NY 2015
Press release, including production credits, here
Hard copies and ebook copies of Choir Boy can be purchased here.

Review by Kitty Drexel

(New York, NY) Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys is a christian organization founded on the mission to turn black boys into strong, ethical men… So long as the boys obey authority without question, these boys will grow into men who will do as they are told. This is how Charles R. Drew is expected to run. The reality is quite different.

The boys we are introduced to in McCraney’s play are willful, proud, bright and just as lost as any teenager. They suffer under the weight of their family’s expectations, their school’s demands and their heritage. The only respite they have is the momentarily unchaperoned Drew gospel choir. Pharus is an unconforming gay man directing the legendary choir through a sea of heternormativity. The central focus of Choir Boy is on his struggle to come to terms with who he is, how he loves, and a world full of expectations in-between. The actions of the characters are dueted with gospel hymns that evoke sympathy and mark the pacing of the play.

Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney paints a stark but real prep school world in which the rules are dictated by the status quo. Justice is a secondary inconvenience. McCraney’s characters are deeply human: flawed and insecure. The lead role, Pharus is a calculating but forgiving anti-hero. He practically leaps off the page. His foil, Bobby is deeply enriched but plays from the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum. David, a young man destined to be a preacher, Pharus, and Headmaster Marrow have several elegantly dramatic monologues for interested actors.

With the exception of one character, all of the roles in Choir Boy are black men. Ages and personalities vary wildly from the stern adult principal to teenage troublemaker. This is an emotionally turbulent play and all of the roles require great commitment to character development and actor introspection. As the drama is punctuated by gospel music sung by the cast, actors with strong voices (not necessarily pretty) are a must.

The usual production history and notes are included at the beginning of the book. Stage directions are not included in this edition. This means that directors will need to either get creative with their interpretations or borrow a director’s edition from the publisher for visuals.

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