The nuances of Oberlin theater often fly over the heads of its non-theater major audiences. Student-written plays often fall victim to the superficially deep (or deeply superficial) plague, when an inexperienced playwright has overly high and intellectual ambitions. Fortunately, junior Sam Medina's Damaged Goods or Bring on the Boy does not fall into this trap. Damaged Goods presents a highly accessible and familiar theatrical portrayal of life and relationships as we know them.
The plot of Damaged Goods revolves around a group of friends, primarily gay males, and their experiences with friendship and love. The issues are serious and personal but the performance presents them in a gentle and light-hearted manner. The first scene opens on James's (first-year Joseph Bradley) apartment as James and his friends Andrew (senior David Bishop) and Kyle (senior Dan Somerfield) chat and gossip about Kyle's infatuation for "The Boy," a man who Kyle has been eyeing for a time at a bar.
The chemistry between the three men seems awkward at first. They sit straight up in their chairs, instead of casually relaxed as might be expected amongst friends. The slow first scene is later amended by stronger scenes where the characters laugh naturally and reflect sadly together.
The role that most approximates a main charater is that of James. While Bradley's portrayal of the funny side of James is delivered in a sarcastic and almost too dry manner, the other aspects of his performance are effective. James is the wisest of the group, the one who has been through the most. This strong knowledgeable facade is deceiving because it masks a deep problem that James confronts. James comes out to his mother during the show. Immediately James is thrown into a storm of trouble and emotions, for which even he is not prepared. Bradley's deep voice lends itself to the sage-like advice James gives as well as the particularly touching and well-written monologue about his mother where the audience is able to access all of James' feelings and thoughts. As a performer, Bradley shows potential; however his range of affect during this performance could be broadened.
Another young talent is first-year Lauren Greilsheimer who plays Dee, the one female role in Damaged Goods. Greilsheimer's Dee and Somerfield's Kyle exemplify the natural and unique rapport, as well as the difficulties that emerge in a friendship between a gay man and a straight woman. The scene where Dee expresses her love for Kyle is a lump-in-the-throat moment of hopefulness but eventual hopelessness. The interaction is emotional and intimate. Greilsheimer portrays the apparently assured Dee's underlying vulnerabilities and fear well. Her performance as Dee is strong.
Somerfield's Kyle is endearing and humorous in almost of all his scenes, especially in his infatuation for Brian, junior Josh Thelin, "the boy from the bar." Somerfield's monologue as Kyle describing the date he finally gets with Brian is appropriately nervous and excited. Somerfield's energy on stage is contagious. Kyle and Brian's date is humorous due largely to Somerfield's portrayal of Kyle's longing. Thelin plays Brian smoothly and is well cast as the attractive but straight boy who charms Kyle. Kyle's confession of love to Brian is partially expected, but surprising nevertheless. The end result may not be exactly as Kyle hoped, but a promising platonic love develops.
The individual performances in Damaged Goods complement each other. Characterizations are for the most part even and each of the actors, like Bradley and Somerfield have strong moments. Even the smallest role of the show, Jason (played by sophomore Jeremy Sullivan) provides a good deal of comic relief when Sullivan goes over the top in dramatics as Jason hits on Bishop's Andrew.
Damaged Goods presents many personal dreams, desires and difficulties. Each character has their own circumstance, but a common theme unites them. The show is about relationships: platonic, familial and romantic. The scenes cover a large sphere of human experience. The presentation is personal, but the stories are universal. "I just wanted to tell a story," author and director Medina said, explaining his motivation for writing.
What makes his play so familiar may be that Medina built the story and the characters from his observations of life and stories that his friends told him of their own experiences. Medina admits that Damaged Goods, which was written during Winter Term, will never be finished. Added development will indeed polish off the promising script, already characterized by a few budding monologues and a fresh humor that avoids caricatures.
Damaged Goods' clearest message has to do with the relationships people pursue and the problems and rewards they receive as a result. "It's about truth," said Medina, "Everyone ends up being true to themselves and the people they interact with." The characters of Damaged Goods may all be `damaged goods'; they have all been influenced and often hurt by the past. Some, like James, continue to hurt. The beauty of the show is that they each work through the disappointments and dreams like anyone else in the audience might.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 23; May 3, 1996
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