[media-credit name=”Alan Alabastro” align=”alignnone” width=”640″][/media-credit]
Lizard Boy, the Seattle Rep-incubated project by auteur Justin Huertas, is as tonally and culturally refreshing as it is structurally incomplete. Lizard Boy raises important questions about the role of the major arts institution in the development of new voices.
The dramaturgy of Lizard Boy is all over the map. The script doles out information erratically, sometimes dumping a torrent of character details within a single scene, and other times waiting ages to reveal key pieces of background. I couldn’t help but feel like many of the scenes were simply in the wrong order and I was often confused.
Even worse, the dramaturgy was out of sync with production elements, like protagonist Trevor’s green scaly skin (played by author / composer Huertas). Trevor is the titular Lizard Boy and his grotesque appearance dictates his reclusive lifestyle and total lack of self-confidence. It’s the most important production element in the whole show: it’s not just the title, it defines the cultural allegory for this premiere by a young gay person of color. As Trevor says in the dialogue, “Heroes don’t look like me,” a deeply resonant idea in the hallowed halls of the Seattle Rep (whose other notable production this year was a play about Lyndon Johnson) and a media environment where Batman, Spiderman, Superman, The Flash, and all the rest are a top-to-bottom homogeny parade.
Director Brandon Ivie and Costumer Erik Andor chose to suggest these scales with a costume piece rather than use make-up. Fine, okay. But why did the show open with Trevor in his t-shirt and boxers? When he finally put on his “scales” (a green sweatshirt) there was no indication that this was actually his skin, and, in any case, that wouldn’t make any sense. The power of the metaphor was muddled by its thoughtless execution and these stumbles soon proved a trend.
(Quick aside: there was maybe some green glitter on Trevor’s neck. That might have been the scales. I really have no idea.)
Long story short: this show wasn’t finished.
But pounding in the production’s undergrown skeleton was the beating heart of a masterwork. Huertas’ score was a visionary conglomeration of hook-y musical theatre (I caught a subtle homage to The Little Mermaid in the villain’s siren song) and the angsty alt-rock that Millenial guitar-pickers grew up on. Huertas clearly loves those down-strumming bands like Weezer as much as I do and the reference captured my affection.
Lizard Boy‘s art direction, colorful acoustic instruments perched in a backdrop of excellent comic illustrations, collaborated flawlessly with its expressionist take on the monster apocalypse. Dragons emerge from the mountain; dragons emerge from Trevor’s heart. Trevor slays the evil witch; Trevor slays his insecurities. Lizard Boy wants to live in a genre where large is small and vice-versa and that is really, really interesting. It just wasn’t finished.
I made the trip to see Lizard Boy because the musical-that-isn’t-a-musical format has emerged in my lifetime as a ready vehicle for voices in underrepresented demographics. Small-cast rock shows like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Passing Strange, and, most recently in Seattle, Now I’m Fine by trumpeter / comedian Ahamefule Oluo have moved me personally and fascinated me formally. The premiere of Lizard Boy tells me that it just might be a movement. Kudos to the Rep for making it happen at all.
But now I must ask: what is the Rep’s responsibility to a young artist? If the script isn’t finished, is the Rep obliged to finish it? If Huertas can’t tell that his scales don’t read, whose hand is on the glue gun?
Huertas clearly had carte blanche to decide the content of the universe and that was for the best. The audience heard about Grindr, about Jinkx Monsoon, and 90s kids TV, all of which was certainly gracing the Leo K Theatre for the first time. Leading civic organizations have a duty to embrace our entire culture and that includes the youthful parts.
But what of the script development? How, in all those staged readings and workshops, did an incomplete product make it all the way to performance?
I don’t blame Huertas for aiming high and missing the mark; I blame the Rep for not guiding his hand.
All that said, I sat in a full house that gave Lizard Boy a rousing ovation. The show’s energy and unironic enthusiasm charmed the audience. As we left, I overheard a patron say, “I didn’t understand a bit of that, but I loved it!”