McCraney's newest production has just made its London debut. Choir Boy explores the competing roles of religion, Black cultural identity and sexual repression at a fictional African-American prep. The one-act play is directed by Dominic Cooke and runs through October 6 at the Royal Court Theatre. The London run has already been sold out.
Variety describes the production as "intellectually and emotionally riveting as it is authentic."
Expert musical direction by Charles Vassell has turned a strikingly young group of actors into a convincing, cohesive vocal quartet whose a capella harmonies are laced in and out of the action. Their deft singing effortlessly represents the choir as the school's long-established pride and joy which, in the school's anniversary year, is crucial since it acts as a funding magnet.
Problematically, however, the highly articulate and gifted choir leader Pharus (Dominic Smith) is seriously effeminate. Whether or not he is actually gay in initially unclear but facts don't bother his fellow singers, who have already made their minds up, notably Bobby (Eric Kofi Abrefa) who verbally abuses him whenever he can get away with it.
Bobby feels unusually safe in his discriminatory attitude because he happens to be the nephew of the headmaster (Gary McDonald). The latter is presented as a man caught between duty to his pupils' wider education, the importance (or tyranny) of tradition and the need to toe the line with parents.
Dominic Smith, who plays the lead character Pharus, is a former Britain’s Got Talent contestant. Choir Boy is scheduled to make its New York premiere in June 2013.
The Guardian and The Stage have published generally upbeat reviews. On the other hand, The Telegraph found the production uneven, the dialogue "plodding" and notes, "[T]he five principal pupils are only fully expressive when they break into song."
McCraney offers more perspective in an interview with Metro. "All my plays are in some ways coming-out plays," he says.
Although it doesn’t feature suicide, it was inspired by the phenomenon of adolescent tragedies in the US in 2010, mainly involving boys bullied over their sexuality. "Every kid plays around with these thoughts but these students honestly thought there was absolutely nothing for them," he says. "I really wanted to get at how the world is so small for you at that age and yet it feels like it’s everything."
The wunderkind's most recent work was "American Trade", which he wrote during his stint as writer-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The plot explored hustlers, hip-hop and homophobia.
McCraney's critically-acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays were recently produced at two of London's most prestigious stages—The Young Vic in 2007 at the Royal Court in 2009. The first play in the cycle, The Brothers Size, is currently in performance in San Francisco and Charlotte.