Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chance Theater's The Boy in the Bathroom

Chris Klopatek and Liz Holt
Photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

Just as the title suggests, The Boy in the Bathroom, a new musical by Michael Lluberes and Joe Maloney, directed by Oanh Nguyen, and now playing at Chance Theater, is about a boy named David (Chris Klopatek) with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who locks himself in the bathroom to avoid the outside world. His mother Pam (Marina Coffee) supplies him with everything he needs, as long as it fits under the door. That includes food in baggies pressed to a half inch and pages from books that David reads when taking breaks from writing his thesis, which he does on roles of toilet paper.

In due time, mom falls and breaks her hip and cannot continue to provide for David’s needs. Enter his eventual love interest, Julie (the very appealing Liz Holt), a frustrated young woman whose goal is to make money so she can leave town as quickly as possible.

It’s a story that piqued my interest, especially when I heard it had received considerable praise and rave reviews at the 2007 New York Musical Theatre Festival, including several awards such as Best Book and Best New Musical. With so much going for it, I was surprised that I walked out of the theatre with more questions than when I went in; questions as basic as what happened a year ago that made David lock himself in the bathroom?

The only justification he offers is that “it’s a great place to think” and he is going through a “major existential crisis.” Okay, but there is always an inciting incident and without being let in on what that is, I never get truly invested in his story. Of course I sympathize with his situation and I want him to get out. I’m already pretty sure he will before the musical even begins, but fear and angst as general issues do not stay interesting very long without a more compelling look into the whys and wherefores.

Chris Klopatek as David

So my mind wandered. Why is he writing his thesis on toilet paper when regular paper will fit under the door? I guess because that’s more theatrical. Why doesn’t the bathroom look lived in? His OCD will certainly have him keep the room spotless, but other than the clothes he was wearing, there were no other items of clothing anywhere at all.

How can David be in such perfect physical shape? He takes his shirt off for a good twenty minutes of the show and we can see his perfectly cut muscles flexing with his every movement. It’s a little hard to buy when you don’t see him do a push up or sit up at any time onstage. But, of course he wouldn’t be working out in the bathroom would he, because physical exercise empowers people to face the world, not retreat from it. And where did he get his farmer’s tan if he hasn’t seen the sun in a year?

Underlying causes for David’s predicament are eluded to – dad left when David was seven and mom has OCD tendencies of her own – yet they are only offered as information and neither their relationship to David, nor his feelings about them, are explored except in superficial terms. From the talkback session following the performance I learned that the writers did not want to focus on the OCD element as much as on the relationships between the characters, but it seemed so integral to the story that that was puzzling to me.

Even the music failed to engage me, with melodies that made little sense combined with lyrics that rarely moved the story forward. Conversely, technical production elements are of extremely high quality, with Bradley Kaye’s set design and Brian S. Shevelenko’s lighting design both being particularly effective.

Like David says, “The world is a scary place when you stand still. You have to keep moving.” It’s good advice to remember when writing a new musical too.

For more information and tickets go to

The Boy in the Bathroom is part of the 4th Annual Festival of American Musicals.

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