by Greg Boyle
Theatre begins its 33rd season with an adaptation of The Outsiders, a book by S.E. Hinton,
which was made into a movie in 1983 by Francis Ford Coppola. This Kansas City
staging mimics the movie version in that it features a cast full of young hunks
oozing with charisma. The movie created a lot of stars, including Tom Cruise,
Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze. Our local boys, some of whom are making their
Kansas City debuts, should get plenty of attention for their efforts in this
The Greaser Gang: Johnny (Brian Gehrlein), Ponyboy (Skyy Moore), Darry (Jeff Smith), Two Bit (Matthew Leonard), Sodapop (Doogin Brown), and Dallas(Tosin Morohunfola) in The Outsiders. (photo
by Marianne Kilroy)
Coterie Theatre has a tiny performance space. What they accomplish time after
time in those cramped environs is nothing short of miraculous. Director Jeff
Church uses every inch of stage, and even the aisles of the seating area, in
staging the show. As a result, the play becomes a 3-D experience. It is not
just in front of the audience like a proscenium house or even a theatre in the
round. Rather, one is immersed in the action, like Phil Spector’s wall of
sound. At the same time, there isn’t the feeling of being intruded upon like
some interactive or experimental theatre through some confrontation with the
performers. It simply feels like it is happening all around you. Children and
young adults seem to love the effect especially.
plot revolves around the conflict between two social classes within an Oklahoma
high school in the 1960s. As in Grease,
this tale is told from the perspective of the crew with the slicked back hair.
However, much more realistically than Grease,
it shows these kids to be the economically deprived outcasts, not the cool
kids. These boys and girls acknowledge themselves as thieves and troublemakers,
but the play is all about recognizing the goodness, humanity and the
universality of need and longing within all social castes.
central character is Ponyboy, the youngest of the gang, the only one who has a
chance academically. He’s a dreamer and reader of poetry. Nonetheless, at
fourteen, he’s also a seasoned member of the bunch, participating in all the
fights. Through his chance interaction with a girl member of the archrival
group, the stage is set for heightened conflict, which turns tragic for both
is nearly impossible to find professionally competent stage actors who are
actual teenagers. Coterie does its best, but Ponyboy, played by Skyy Moore, is
one of only two actors on stage who looks anywhere near age appropriate for his
role. The good news is that it only takes a few minutes to suspend your
disbelief. Once you get past that visual distraction, the play flows very
awkward postures and vocal delivery convey a youthfulness that has not yet been
corrupted by the hard times he’s experienced. Brian Gehrlein, the other
young-looking performer, plays the character Johnnycake with an almost
foreordained sense of doom.
members of the gang, Matthew Leonard, Jeff Smith, and Doogin Brown are brimming
with good looks and testosterone, at the same time grounding themselves in the
reality of the situation their characters.
is a testimonial as to how far the nation’s consciousness has evolved, that
Tosin Morohunfula has a role as the toughest of the tough guys (but still with
a heart of gold, we discover). Oklahoma in the 1960s was not a place where
black boys hung out with a gang of white boys. As in other performances we’ve
seen from this fine young actor, Morohunfula’s physical presence generates a
crackle of electricity that implies the possibility of violence even when he’s
Rush, playing various guitars and creating all kinds of sounds and effects from
the instruments, provides the background music. Rush’s work is exceptionally
fine in producing a wide variety of moods throughout the show. There was a
problem in the fire scene, however, where the music was so loud that the
necessary exposition lines were lost. Luckily, they were easily picked up from
Coterie is specifically a theatre for young audiences, the play runs only
eighty minutes, maintaining the attention of people of all ages. This show
plays well for adults down to kids that are in middle school.
The Outsiders is playing at The Coterie Theatre in Crown Center through Oct. 14. For tickets, call the box office at 816-474-6552, or go online to www.coterietheatre.org.
Greg Boyle may be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.