A Real Boy – TheaterMania.com

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A kindergarten teacher tangles with puppet parents over the education of their child in this off-Broadway play.

Jenn Remke and Alexander Bello in A Real Boy, directed by Audrey Alford, at 59E59 Theaters.
(© Heidi Bohnenkamp)

Early in Stephen Kaplan’s A Real Boy, now playing at 59E59 Theaters, Miss Terry, a kindergarten teacher, calls the parents of one of her students in for a conference. Her concern? Their son, Max, is using only black and white crayons to draw — a choice, Miss Terry believes, that may point to abuse. It turns out that the real reason is quite the opposite: overprotectiveness. “We live in a complicated world,” Max’s dad tells Miss Terry, explaining why he won’t allow his son to use colors, “and all we want is to make things as simple for him as possible.”

This attitude, contrived as it is, echoes real-life objections to school curricula. Last month, Florida passed a law allowing any resident of the state to challenge classroom material he or she considers inappropriate. And back in 2010, Arizona banned ethnic studies classes in K-12 public schools. Given these circumstances, crayon color in A Real Boy seems to symbolize race or ideology. If Kaplan had stayed focused on this metaphor, his play might have worked. Instead, the color concept fades as other symbolic strands get knottier and knottier.

Now would be a good time to mention that Max’s parents are puppets. In the world of the play, puppethood seems to be a nonhereditary condition that some people develop as early as childhood. Puppets occupy a place in society analogous to that of queer people in the United States. “I have many good, good friends that are puppets,” Miss Terry assures Max’s parents. Before long, Max himself sprouts a string in her classroom, a development that sends him crying into her arms and pushes her compassion to the,…

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