By Adam Collier
In one of the first scenes a little boy named Luke (played by Jeremy Lapalme) asks his grandmother (“Nanna”) what the word “gypo,” means. A girl at school – Katie – has called him it. Nanna says, it’s slang for gypsy.
Though the characters look nothing like Gypsy stereotypes, I got a sense that the boy and his Nana were – geographically and historically – adrift, and emotionally wandering.
There were times when the turn-of-phrase and customs, like tea drinking, hinted at England. But the characters lack accents and speak without the inflection of a foreign land. While there are specific cultural references, the exact location has a resounding ambiguity.
The time is ambiguous as well. References to nuclear annihilation suggest the nineteen sixties or seventies. But lacking any reference to a specific enemy or motive for attack, the action might just as easily be set today, or sometime in the future.
At school, Luke hangs-out with Katie (Tanya Lynne) who enjoys teasing him. As their odd (playful? abusive? normal for pre-adolescent?) relationship moves along, it enters into sexual, and finally, existential territory.
Allowing even more emotional and intellectual exploration, the playwright Gary Owens brings in an imaginary comic book action figure (Peter Jensen) into the world of Luke, to shadow the boy.
My show partner was a bit confused by the imaginary character. This happened especially in a final sequence when the girl is interacting with the imaginary character.
Occasionally I felt the action stalled in sequences between Luke and his Nanna (Janice Hawke). But generally, we both enjoyed it.
I found myself thinking about it for nearly a week after. Although I pushed back in my seat on many of the grandma’s lines; they seemed sugarcoated – the theatrical and psychological daring of the material was inspiring.
I love how The Shadow of a Boy didn’t stick to simply representing kids as they appear, but gave life to the emotionally and intellectually rich inner-worlds of children that are as pure and worthwhile to examine as any adult’s.
Although the run of this play is over, if you ever get the chance to see this piece, I’d strongly recommend it. I’m looking forward to seeing what The Royal Porcupine Company has to offer next