I’ve been working on this piece in between work and rehearsals for a few weeks now, trying to determine exactly what I want to say about Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of Lizard Boy. I could wax philosophic about how we can each be the hero in our own lives. I could warn against Fear, the quiet villain, whose power to keep us comfortable cripples. I could draw a parallel between Huertas’ childhood dreams of being Spiderman to my childhood dreams of being Batman (true dat). I could rant on the need to revitalize our ability to suspend disbelief, etc. I could easily write about any of those things. In fact, I already have full paragraphs about them, but they don’t accurately express my feelings. So, here goes my final attempt:
Once upon a time, the late Jerry Manning asked Justin Huertas to write a play. So Justin Huertas did. Then he doused the play with music and dragon blood, and it turned into a superhero.
This is not a review.There may be spoilers and unexplained references. There will not be a synopsis or summary of the plot, character analysis, or background information. If you want those things, check out the many articles, reviews, interviews, etc. written about the show: I’m helpful, so here’s a link. Instead, this is a fan letter, of sorts. A thank you card sent after receiving an awesome gift. This is unabashed applause, praise, and a city-wide shout for an encore.
The first time I saw Lizard Boy was as a volunteer usher, and I sat in the balcony. I had heard great things about the show, but I really didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t long before I was laughing with and relating to Huertas’ Trevor. He was someone I recognized. A semi-fictional rendition of people I know. And as he tried to decide on his dating app profile header, “looking for now” – because he was only looking for a moment (y’know, for now), I thought, “Oh yeah, this is my sense of humor.” Then Siren exchanged Trevor’s cell with a ukulele and Trevor seamlessly continued using it, seguing into an IM conversation with dueling instruments, and I thought, “Yesssssssssssss.” Eloquent, I know. But it was at that moment that I knew I was witnessing something rare, something unafraid to be truly inventive, while also being truly real.
Let me explain. Trevor, Carey, and yes, even Siren to a degree, are all versions of people I know. So much so that it actually astounded me as I sat in the audience. “Hey, don’t I know that guy? I think I know that guy.” Sure, the story is about a burgeoning superhero – a scaly local origin story – but it’s told with a cast of characters you would find walking down any street in the city. It’s told through conversations you would overhear in any corner coffee shop. Isn’t that what theatre is supposed to be? Real people and real conversations in fictional environments. Truth in the moment even when the moment involves a rock-star murderess with telekinetic, telepathic, siren-song powers.
The second time I saw Lizard Boy, I got $5 tickets with a friend, and we sat in the front row. In Seattle’s Leo K. Theatre, the front row is, as my friend put it, “…a cockroach’s-eye view.” But from our up close and personal seats, I could see things I hadn’t seen the first time, and I don’t just mean Justin Huertas’ back molars. I could see the work made effortless, the changes in the actors’ eyes as they moved inside the minds of their characters, the tears on Kirsten deLohr Helland’s cheeks. I could feel the choreography, both physical and emotional. And when Trevor, Carey, and Siren grabbed their instruments, plopped criss-cross-applesauce down center (aka our laps), and sang us the story of the Lizard Boy of Point Defiance, I felt like a kid around a campfire, caught up in a scary story, giddy as all get-out. That night was also the anniversary of Jerry Manning’s passing, making it all the more meaningful, especially to the actors who had worked so enviously close to him. After the show, Justin Huertas, William A. Williams, and Kirsten deLohr Helland took the stage once more to pay him tribute. They sang a cut song from the show, one Jerry had loved, called “Old Man.” With tears in my eyes, the night was complete.
Though it’s been a few weeks since the show closed, I would like to say thank you to the Cast, Crew, and Production Team of Lizard Boy. Thank you for putting a huge smile on my face. Thank you for your crystal clear dedication and devotion. Thank you for reminding us what theatre is supposed to be, for sharing truth in the moment, and for sparking our imaginations with your energy. You’ve reminded us that we are our own protagonists, and we have to decide whether or not to be the villain or the hero on a daily basis. Your work was a concert, a dance, a master class in ensemble theatre. Please come back. Please show us more. Because we’ve fallen in love with the boy who looks like a lizard.