The Boy on the Other Side of the World
nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
August 15, 2007
What does a writer do when faced with writer’s block? Judging by the activities of WriterGirl in The Boy on the Other Side of the World, she dreams up encounters with cute boys and flirtatiously argues with their inner muses. And if WriterGirl in any way represents the real playwright, Jill Jichetti, then writers with writer’s block write about writer’s block. Alas, Boy reveals that writer’s block, unto itself, is not very dramatically thrilling.
The Boy on the Other Side of the World centers on the aforementioned WriterGirl, who fires her first muse after she tries to persuade WriterGirl to talk to her crush-at-first-sight, DistantBoy. Stranded creatively and preoccupied with thoughts about DistantBoy, WriterGirl acquires a sexy Male Muse who attempts to inspire her to compose her play. Meanwhile, a precocious five-year old version of WriterGirl, simply dubbed Girl, stares at the 30-year old version of herself and wonders what she has become. In a series of fantasies conjured by WriterGirl, she and DistantBoy get to know each other, and DistantBoy plays with Girl and her paper dolls. To add to the surreal setting, Jichetti’s text consistently tears down the fourth wall—the real stage manager plays the first muse, with her script in hand, and at one point the play altogether stops to have a rehearsal of the play itself.
The plot sounds a little confusing because, honestly, the play is a little confusing. Because so much of the play is WriterGirl’s imagination, no steady plot or consistent action seems to exist in Boy. (Even the romantic comedy between WriterGirl and Distant Boy, which is set up as the play’s thrust, awkwardly alters into a romantic comedy between WriterGirl and Male Muse.) There are some nicely written scenes—especially one where DistantBoy, played charmingly by Mike Callaghan, patiently teaches the demanding Girl to make paper airplanes—but collectively they don’t seem to add up to anything. The clunky transitions between the fantasies, as directed by Jichetti and Hilary McHone, only exacerbate Boy’s mish-mash quality.
With no clear-cut plot, one would think the fantasies would make up a kind of intense character study, revealing the desires and insecurities of WriterGirl. And indeed, one way writer’s block could be dramatically thrilling is if the writer is an intriguing individual with a complex psychosis. But we never find out much about WriterGirl, thanks in part to the coy dialogue, in which questions constantly are asked but, annoyingly, never answered. In a “rehearsal” within the play, the actor playing DistantBoy breaks out of character to wonder about his motivation, asking, “Why are there no details?” I wondered the same thing. Jichetti may make cheeky reference to the dramatic problems of the play, but those references do not solve or excuse the problems.
Considering the lack of details, the actors do their best to instill their characters with some dimension. Simultaneously curious and stubborn (as most children are), Jennifer Saltzstein does well as Girl, stomping around her toys when provoked and squeaking like a squeezed stuffed animal when delighted. As Male Muse, Tyler Hollinger slaps on just the right amount of ham, as he struts about and slicks his blond hair back like a cocky, prototypical frat boy. And Marielle Heller, assigned the challenging role of WriterGirl, contributes a much needed poise to the character—even when eager to talk about the number of continents on which she has had sex.
Ultimately, The Boy on the Other Side of the World raised more questions for me than it answered, seeming more like an effort to cure writer’s block than a complete play.