Teddy Ferrara by Christopher Shinn at the Donmar Warehouse

The play is set on an American college campus and focuses on a small group of gay students. A year earlier a male student has committed suicide. A new LGBT student group is in ongoing discussions with the institution to form policy on the issues faced by minorities. A black woman faculty member is vociferous in demanding a clear policy on tolerance within the campus. Separately, the main character, Gabe, has started a forum for gay students; another character is the editor of the student newspaper determined to reveal to the student population that the suicide victim was probably gay.

So who is Teddy Ferrara?  Teddy is a young gay man seriously handicapped by being very unattractive in his outward appearance and in his ineffective social interaction with others that no amount of triggerpoints, (an increasing feature of American college life, which anticipate, say in a reading list, that a particular text may cause anger or pain), and participation in meetings to promote tolerance can save from isolation.  The absence of friends and the obvious repulsion that others instinctively feel towards him, leave him in the only place where he feels needed but which foments his self-loathing – in a highly compromised online presence on a porn website.  Even Gabe, the founder of the LGBT student group, cannot get round to adding him to his Facebook page.

The denouement of the play as it affects Gabe and Teddy is tragic for all.  At the heart of the play is a debate about being different, especially in relation to sexual orientation, and fighting for acceptance and tolerance from a society that has been grossly intolerant of it. The insecurity of these lives is further exacerbated, paradoxically, by the institutional use of triggerpoints  and its opposite, the microaggression, fast also becoming a  feature of campus life. On the one hand our responses to others are instinctive: we unconsciously select who we want to know and who we don’t, and the Teddys of this world will always be isolated and that may sometime prove fatal. On the other hand, the re-structuring of language and policy to promote awareness can jeopardize free speech and a genuinely broad education.  The constant sensitization to the problems of being a minority can itself engender mental health problems. Thus the normal issues of relationships and career decisions that accompany this age-group emerging as adults are compounded by a quicksand of shifting personal values, promiscuity, indifference and disloyalty all too freely expressed in this acutely self-conscious volatile atmosphere becoming a corrosive set of defense measures that ultimately separate us from each other.

A very important play about our times with outstanding performances from the leads in particular.

WIGS 4/5

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