Raven Theatre Presents CHOIR BOY Review – Surviving the Testosterone Rush

(PHOTO LEFT TO RIGHT): Julian Terrell Otis as Junior Davis, Christopher W. Jones as Pharus Jonathan Young, Darren Patin as David Heard and Tamarus Harvell as Anthony Justin "AJ" James. Photo: Dean La Prairie

A prep school for boys is the answer for discipline problems for some parents. For others, it is a way to propel a son past the hurdles awaiting public school students. The Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys in Raven Theatre’s Choir Boy is an intimate look at student and faculty navigating testosterone-soaked boys becoming men woven together with beautiful gospel ballads by the school’s elite boys choir.

Music is the Thing in Raven Theatre’s Choir Boy

Our man Pharus Jonathan Young, played by Christopher W. Jones is handsome and intelligent, with a singing voice that puts him out in front at Drew Prep School. He is surviving his budding gay sexuality by precociously flaunting it. His nemesis is Bobby Marrow, played by Patrick Agada, the headmaster’s nephew. Bobby is anxious to prove his masculine prowess with his own silver-tongued talents coupled with his bully tactics aimed at Pharus. When the dust settles and the ensemble of five actors break into gospel a capella song, the result is electric.

(LEFT TO RIGHT): Christopher W. Jones as Pharus, Tamarus Harvell as AJ and Patrick Agada as Bobby. Photo by Dean La Prairie

Playwright, Tarrel Alvin McCraney inserts just enough information into the dialogue to hint that each boy comes from a family with trouble — an oversexed single mother, a parent deceased way too young. These boys suffer together in a cauldron designed to launch them into Black male elitism. Pharus has a comrade in roommate in “AJ,” played by Tamarus Harvell, the baseball player who is, according to Pharus, all limbs. The two develop a comfortable banter that piques curiosity in Pharus — why has AJ agreed to stay on as his roommate. Why does AJ stand naked to primp and shave in their shared bath when sexual tension is at hand?

The Peacemaking Educator Emeritus

Headmaster Marrow, the perpetual disciplinarian does not tolerate conflict well. Mr. Pendleton is the retired teacher brought in to broker peace in the tribe. Played by Don Tieri, Pendleton is the enthusiastic Mr. Chips of the classroom, finding ways to engage the boys that bring a healthy competition on board. It is heartwarming to see wisdom nurture; but he does outrage just as readily when he sees the boys push just the right buttons to twist the knife.

(LEFT TO RIGHT): Tamarus Harvell as AJ and Christopher W. Jones as Pharus. Photo: Dean La Prairie
(LEFT TO RIGHT): Don Tieri as Mr. Pendleton and Robert D. Hardaway as Headmaster Marrow. Photo: Dean La Prairie

Beautiful Gospel Ballads

Actor Julian Terrell Otis as Junior Davis, stands brightly lit center stage and sings one of the production’s most beautiful gospel songs. When he is joined by the other four, their song is often accompanied by just enough synchronized dance to delight. These actors have polished voices and spot on footwork that engage with charming exuberance. They have mastered youthful naiveté on the cusp of adulthood that rings true for the adolescent in all of us.

(LEFT TO RIGHT): Julian Terrell Otis as Junior Davis. Photo: Dean La Prairie

Black Male Experience

McCraney’s script captures the gay African-American male experience without apology. The intrigue of first love seems ever at hand for Pharus, who is not above the awkward seduction tactics of youth in the context of a Black male taboo. A moment of innocent seduction is woven seamlessly with violent outbursts in the next. There is a heart of love in the work that is subtle, yet eloquent. It is most poignant when the boys sing together in harmony, a cogent metaphor for the perilous and wonderful journey that guides them into manhood.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

(LEFT TO RIGHT): Patrick Agada as Bobby Marrow, Don Tieri as Mr. Pendleton and Christopher W. Jones as Pharus. Photo: Dean La Prairie


Thru November 12, 2017
Thursday-Saturday @ 7:30PM
Sunday @ 3:00PM
Please note: there will not be a performance Thursday, October 5



Raven Theatre
6157 N. Clark Street (at Granville)


For tickets visit the Raven Theatre website or 773-338-2177


Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.

Stephen B. Starr
Stephen B. Starr Photo: Eric Ramirez

About the Author:

Stephen B. Starr is Principal of Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc., a design and communication consultancy in Evanston, IL. Stephen is a former president of the Chicago Creative Coalition, organizer for the Chicago Weekly Sitting Meditation Group and founder and organizer of the Chicago Web Professionals. Stephen is nurtured creatively by the fine art of story-telling — especially in the theater. As a college journalism major, he has since followed the siren’s call of poetry and short story writing in his free time. He is interested in the wisdom of indigenous spiritual traditions and seeks inspiration in natural settings by gardening, camping, hiking and biking.

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