Sunday, February 9, 2014

Doodu Boy by Stefhen Bryan

Stefhen Bryan

By Joe Straw

I’ve had a fascination with Japan since I was a young boy and this show about a Jamaican boy coming to the United States to find his father, getting an education, and traveling to Japan to teach touched a nerve in my core being.

And without even thinking, I booked this show not knowing it was Super Bowl Sunday, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos playing the Seattle Seahawks. 

I caught the first half of the game on a big screen at Don Antonio’s restaurant on Pico Boulevard and thought, in my old coach’s voice as I was watching: “Peytin’, ya ain’t got yer stuff son and I know in my hart dis ain’t yer night. It’s that time when you take out Earl Morrall and stick in Johnny Unitas.”*  And shaking my head at the end of the first half I knew I wasn’t going to miss anything by missing this “Super Bowl”.

Theatre on this night was a very good choice.  - Narrator

A funny thing about going to the Santa Monica Playhouse is that it always rains when I go.  Stogie Kenyata’s Robeson show, rain, and Debra Ernhart’s Jamaica Farewell, rain, and now Doodu Boy, rain again. Rain is always welcomed in Southern California and gives it that extra-added flavor of being in Jamaica.

Meadowbrook Entertainment presents Doodu Boy written and performed by Stefhen Bryan and directed and dramaturged by Jared Scheib at the Santa Monica Playhouse through February 23, 2014 on Sundays at 6:00pm.

Doodu Boy is a fascinating look of a son searching for his father, finding him, and never giving up his idea of connecting with the man that gave him life.  It is a story of love, rejection, and abuse all in the course of finding one simple truth.

In this tiny black box theatre, and with two black apple boxes, Bryan takes us on a journey from the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, to New York, Colorado, California, and then to Japan back to New York all in one night, in an effort to reunite with his father.

And it all starts with 4-year-old Steve playing with himself and Sister Jean saying, “It was the work of the devil.”

Little Steve and his mother shared a tiny room in Saint Andrew Parish in Jamaica with a picture of Jesus on the wall and a bible somewhere nearby.  And while he sat on the hard mattress, all he could think about was living with his daddy.  And then a miracle happens, Steve’s daddy gives him a tricycle for his birthday, but his hopes of seeing and living with his father would not come on this day when he learns that his father has moved to America.

“Why didn’t he say goodbye?” – Steve

That is a moment that Steve captured, a moment that lasts his lifetime. Taking out his frustration with the need for speed, Steve takes his tricycle and rides straight into a cesspool, losing his tricycle in the process.  He is pulled out of the tank with an old sheet, stripped of his clothes, washed down with Pine-Sol and Lysol, and all this in front of many people.  And after that is done, he gathers a switch for his mother’s beating, but all he can think about is his lost tricycle and his daddy.  And from here on end “Doodu Boy” would be his moniker.

By the age of 11, Mom and son have separate rooms, the beatings continued and while holding a pair of scissors Steve has thoughts of killing his mother but takes his frustration out on a cat and kills it by mistake.

When Steve turns 15, Steve’s mother is finally fed up and takes Steve to the airport to travel to New York to live with his father and stepmother Clarissa. When he gets there his father looks surprisingly like Shaft.  

But that is about as much excitement as it gets when Steve finds out that his father doesn’t want him living with him and after three months goes so far as to change the locks on the door to keep him out. Clarrisa is none too happy with this chain of events but his father decides to get rid of Steve and sends him on a 4-day Greyhound bus ride to live with his aunt Ann in Colorado.  Ann greets him with a warm hug.

“So this is what a good hug feels like.”  

But a progression of change starts in Colorado, Steve changes his name to Stefhen, drops out of high school, and at this point, things are not looking too promising for this young man.

Nevertheless Stefhen enrolls in a two-year college, and after 5 years he finishes, enrolls in UCLA, and gets his BA in Economics.

He travels back to see his father but his father, who is watching his newly born son, Steve, calls the cops and Stefhen is almost arrested.

Despite having a valued perspicacity, Stephen does not really understand all that has transpired.  So he travels to Jamaica to visit his mother and grandmother.  

“Let sleeping dogs die.” – grandmother

During this journey he finds out a truth about his father, why her mother beat him relentlessly, why he should reject this information, and turn his attention to God.

“I am an atheist.” – Stefhen

“You are not my son.” – Mother

There are a lot of very interesting things in this production including the direction by Jared Scheib and the performance by Stefhen Bryan.  

Bryan, the actor, shows us that he can be an actor when the need arises. Certainly he has the capacity to tell a story, the physical wherewithal, and develops an intelligent character who suffers human miseries. His mimicry of a Japanese man speaking with an English accent is terrific.  

The play, written by Stefhen Bryan, includes stories from his book, Black Passenger Yellow Cabs:  A Memoir of Exile and Excess in Japan. This play and this journey are about a man and his troubled relationship with his father. And I like this focal point, this through-line of the play.

Although it is tough to find a connection of his sexual exploits in Japan to his relationship with his father (and it gets very uncomfortable here), there is a connection, somewhere, which needs further exploration. It’s just not found yet, or not solidified.  If the exploits in Japan are seen to have a relationship with the father, a young man trying to find his way back to his father, then it may strengthen the progression of the play. Certainly, the Japanese sexual exploits may appeal to men in their thirties who are going to visit Japan, but the father-son relationship and story would have a broader appeal.

For example, the Japanese doctor who might be seen as a father figure is one element to tie this all together. (And by the way, this is an extremely funny moment in the play.) But, the character must engage the doctor in ways that lead us back home to his father.  

Also Stefhen never really questions his father’s motives. When he visits his mother and grandmother, he should be on a quest to find the truth and that should be his maw.  That is done through the actor’s physical and emotional instrument. He should be obliquely prowling for the answers so that when he doesn’t get it from his grandmother, he should figuratively run to his mother and demand it. After all he’s old enough now to understand.  

And when he gets his answer there should be a dramatic effect from finding the truth.  Maybe it did not happen in real life but for dramatic purposes should happen on the page and on the stage.

Stefhen Bryan, the writer, has written a very clever story.  Bryan is articulate and tells his story with a dramatic flair.  But there are certain story elements about his father left out.  What was the father’s work?  Why did he have a very nice car?  And a nice stereo? Living in a nice apartment in New York City?  And why don’t we get an inkling of truth from this character?

Jared Scheib does a nice job in directing the production.  There are always things that should be tweaked, added, even thought about when performing a new work.  But overall the production flows evenly.

Nicely produced by Debra Ehrhardt. Executive Producer Juan Pablo Frias and the Associate producer is Jon Hanson.

Doodu Boy will be in New York March 2014.

* Superbowl III New York Jets 16 – Baltimore Colts 7

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