Theater productions in non-traditional spaces work best when the subject matter matches the venue. GASP Theatre Company’s “The Dream of the Burning Boy” fits perfectly in a classroom, an office and the library at Raleigh’s Cardinal Gibbons High School.
David West Read’s 2011 play concerns the impact of the sudden death of a popular senior, Dane, on students and teachers. While his sister Rachel, his girlfriend Chelsea and his best friend Kyle are dealing with his passing in different but expected ways, it’s his English teacher, Larry, who has an unusual reaction. Dane was his favorite student, but Larry seems unemotional and closed off.
Guidance counselor Steve tries to get him to talk about it, but Larry denies he needs help. It’s only after a heated confrontation between Larry and Rachel about his favoritism toward Dane that a long-buried secret is revealed that changes everything.
Despite the play’s serious theme, there’s a lot of natural humor and the conventions of teaching and counseling get some ribbing. Read writes believable dialogue, especially for the teenagers, although he indulges in too much profanity. He gives all the characters interesting quirks and intriguing hints of backstory, frustratingly so, because the 90-minute one-act doesn’t allow these to be fully developed.
Still, the likable actors give dedicated, credible performances in tightly paced scenes under Allison Driskill’s knowing direction. Having audience members sit in a classroom and the library adds welcome veracity, but too bad they must stand crowded together for the scenes in Steve’s office.
Jack Prather’s Larry is appropriately prickly at first, although he tends to physicalize his moods rather than bringing them from within. But Prather grows throughout the evening, ending in a moving scene of Larry’s acceptance of his mistakes.
Patrick Spain’s ever-upbeat Steve goes beyond stereotype, lovable in his sincere if bumbling attempts to help. Grace Briskman astutely reveals that Rachel’s outward cynicism and caustic wit cover deep pain. Jack Richardson makes the most of Dane’s brief scenes, while Riley Hough’s cocky Kyle, Parry Price’s shell-shocked Chelsea and Jenny Anglum’s Andrea, Dane’s angry mother, round out the well-oiled ensemble.
This commendable production from GASP, founded to mix alumni of Cardinal Gibbons High School’s drama program with actors from the local theater community, bodes well for its future presentations.
What: “The Dream of the Burning Boy,” presented by GASP Theatre Company (Gibbons Alumni Summer Project)
Where: Cardinal Gibbons High School, 1401 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. July 21-23
Info: 919-364-0535 or bit.ly/gaspburningboy