Teenage Dick review at Public Theater, New York – ‘a high school riff on Richard III’
Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick is a high school-set tongue-in-cheek tragicomedy that riffs on Richard III.
Discontent with being class secretary, and wanting to rise in social standing, Richard (Gregg Mozgala), who has cerebral palsy, manipulates his friends to try to defeat his nemesis and become all-powerful class president. He schemes to woo his rival’s ex, Anne, and while she falls for his adorkable charm, she suffers the consequences.
Taking on Shakespeare’s themes of revenge, betrayal, and self-destruction but modernising the plot and subject matter, Lew focuses on a young, desperate Richard with an increasingly overwrought perception of how the world sees him and his disability.
Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s production is clunky at times, and it still feels like the actors are finding their comedic rhythms. But Lew’s sly commentary is sharp, balancing serious issues with nimble wit.
Richard’s straight-talking friend Buck (Shannon DeVido), another disabled student, wants him to chill out about high school life. She suggests he be happy, be himself, and, maybe, lose the weird soliloquies. Despite his relationship with Anne, Richard still craves vengeance. Thus this almost rom-com morphs into tragedy.
Wilson Chin’s battlement-topped locker room set cleverly shifts from classroom to dance studio to teen bedroom, but the effect is undermined by some sloppy lighting.
The performances are strong. Mozgala, who like the character has cerebral palsy, makes the defensive Richard sweet and vulnerable. In his intimate scenes with Anne he sheds his verbose tendencies and creates moments of tenderness and vulnerability.
Tiffany Villarin as Anne defiantly delivers a scorching monologue about the marginalisation of women, in Shakespeare’s narratives and beyond, while DeVido is hilariously caustic as Richard’s confidante and frenemy.