Though it’s a fantasy, Gregory Gregorson and the Magic Pinto Bean may be the truest play I’ve ever seen. Most of the show takes place in the head of a dozing theater kid, and having been a theater kid myself, I can verify that what you see is pretty much what goes on in there.
The play, which is currently being performed in a small room in the basement of the Children’s Theatre (the last show is November 21 at 7 p.m., so by the time you read this, unfortunately, its short run will probably be over), was created collaboratively by Jon Ferguson and several teenagers enrolled in CTC’s Theatre Arts Training program. The show is self-referential by design; the actors make frequent references to theater training, and at one point the audience is polled about how convincing the acting is.
As with a lights-up production by Ten Thousand Things, Gregory Gregorson has the kind of immediacy you don’t get upstairs on CTC’s UnitedHealth Group Stage. (Which also, I think, beats out Wurtele Thrust for the most awkward stage name in town.) “They totally make eye contact with you and watch for your reaction,” said my girlfriend about the actors. “They’re brave little buggers!” Further, Gregory Gregorson is a signature Ferguson production, with inventive stagecraft (when Gregory’s mother “cleans up his room,” she actually cleans the room away), character-driven humor, and completely unexpected moments of strange beauty.
|gregory gregorson and the magic pinto bean, playing through november 21 at the children’s theatre. for tickets ($8) and information, see childrenstheatre.org.|
Fortunately (as far as I’m concerned), the theme that inspired the show—”a lack of nature in the lives of young people, a lack of wild imaginative play in a natural environment,” according to Ferguson’s program notes—does not become the subject of heavy onstage musing. The title character (Eric Weiman), a boy coping with the death of his father (Avi Aharoni in sweater vest, halo, and suspendered cloud), falls asleep and awakens in an imaginary woodsy world, where his friends and family members appear, Wizard of Oz style, as fantasy caricatures of themselves. Two extremely creepy fairies (Aharoni again, and Andrew S. Lentz) lead Gregory on a noble quest of—you guessed it—self-discovery, in which he slays an elfen version of his asshole friend (Logan Pedersen) with a sword traded to him by a nose-picking troll (Aharoni yet again) in exchange for setting the troll up on a dinner date with an audience member. (On Saturday afternoon, Ferguson collaborator Piper Sigel-Bruce was the lucky girl; she promised to meet the troll at Ruby Tuesday.)
Some of the adult audience members may have feared that a script largely created by teenagers would be full of obscure references to contemporary pop culture, but perhaps the most eccentric aspect of a production that’s all eccentricity, all the time, is the fact that a 50-year-old watching Gregory Gregorson would catch a lot more of the pop-culture references than any of the actors’ peers would. Not once is “I’ma let you finish” spoken; instead, we get “Garrison Keillor called—he wants his shoes back,” and “I’ve got more technique than Daniel Day-Lewis; want to see my left foot?” At one point in his journey—the soundtrack to which is provided by Led Zeppelin—Gregory meets Woody Allen (Alexandra Peterson) and tells him that he loves the cinematography in Manhattan.
Although not as consistently funny as Ferguson’s Super Monkey, Gregory Gregorson actually works better than that play structurally; and as in his pro shows, Ferguson’s technique of giving his actors imaginative room to roam yields committed performances that are consistently watchable (except, as in the case of Aharoni’s troll, when they’re not meant to be). Megan Hernick is a standout as Marsha, a girl who’s completely in touch with reality—but with her own reality, which bears little resemblance to anyone else’s. That’s a theater kid for you, and Gregory Gregorson is surely best enjoyed by those of us who are or have been theater kids. As we were walking out, I heard a teenage boy behind me wonder aloud how much they must have had to pay Aharoni and Lentz to dress in the ridiculous fairy costumes. That guy, I thought, just doesn’t get it.