Love you to death
Me & My Boy
Folsom, CA 95630
Local playwright William A. Parker is a member of a very small club: Sacramento dramatists who’ve seen their work move to the big city (as in the really big city if you’re in theater—New York). Parker’s 2004 family drama Waitin’ 2 End Hell was produced off-Broadway by the legendary Woodie King Jr., of the New Federal Theatre.
No doubt Parker has similar hopes for Me & My Boy, a family drama centering around a teenager who has landed in serious legal trouble and is forced to reunited with the father who left him behind in a bitter divorce a decade before. Unfortunately, Me & My Boy is problematic at best; its main point seems to be that corporal punishment will quickly end violence, anger and frustration for young black men.
In short, the theory that “I was whupped and I turned out OK” is put to the test, but a reasonable person might suggest that the speaker did not turn out OK if he believes hitting children constitutes appropriate discipline. In fact, the play suffers from a disturbing disconnect where discipline is concerned; shaming and punishment are mistaken for loving discipline throughout.
That’s not to say this is a bad play, only that it’s problematic. Those problems are further brought into stark relief by the exceptional acting chops of the major characters. Parker, the author, takes the role of O’Dell Douglas, a man who was fatherless himself, to which he attributes much of his mistaken past, and which is alleviated when he turns to his Heavenly Father. O’Dell’s relationship with God is pivotal to his changed relationship with his son, but it could stand to be further developed; that might also clarify the confusion between punishment and discipline.
Richard Falcon, of Teatro Nagual, is fantastic as O’Dell’s oldest friend, Curtis Gonzales, and their chemistry is one of the high points. The scene in which O’Dell and Curtis reminisce for their sons about how they met (Curtis shot O’Dell in a dispute over a car) is perfection itself—even if it does have the unexpected consequence of glamorizing the thug life.
Also outstanding in their roles are Tommy Wright (Deon), Valerie Byrd Johnson (Marsha) and Pamela Peters (Sharon), with great supporting performances by Pedro Sterling and Elio Gutierrez. It’s a wonderfully staged production, directed by Michael W. Benjamin, in the new—and gorgeous—City Studio Theater, the second of the Three Stages at Folsom Lake College.
But, as noted, the great acting and production values only serve to further highlight the very real problem with this play: The enthusiastic acceptance of the idea that corporal punishment will have a deterring effect on bad behavior. This is all the more disturbing given that the play acknowledges the overincarceration of black men, yet still seems to think that punishment will correct the problem. What’s more, the tit-for-tat retaliatory behavior that results in so many incarcerated—or dead—youth is, perhaps unwittingly, modeled by the two fathers when, in the second act, they confront someone who has threatened their sons rather than practicing restraint and allowing the authorities to deal with the situation.
Me & My Boy has a lot of potential; its heart is in the right place in reaching for more active, engaged parenting that teaches discipline and responsibility. We hope that revisions are ahead.