'Beautiful Boy' a moving drama about search for identity

Jeffrey Coon (left, with Phillip Brown) plays a man adopted as child who decides to look for his birth parents in Eric Conger's "Beautiful Boy."
Jeffrey Coon (left, with Phillip Brown) plays a man adopted as child who decides to look for his birth parents in Eric Conger's "Beautiful Boy." (MARK GARVIN)
Posted: February 23, 2014

"It's a waste of time and nothing good will come of it!"

Before Thursday night, I would have agreed with that attitude toward an adult who was adopted as a child into a healthy, welcoming family and who late in life decided to seek out his "real" parents.

Eric Conger's Beautiful Boy proved me wrong.

Now in its world premiere at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3, Conger's exquisitely constructed, moving play begins with Bill Moore (Jeff Coon) attending the funeral of the woman who raised him. Recently unemployed, he decides at 49 to find his birth parents, and hopes to discover himself.

Conger's play embeds Bill's story within the hierarchy of a Catholic Church still clinging to power by keeping records sealed and identities hidden. Through the milieu of the church, Bill's journey confronts themes of redemption, grief, and sin, as well as the idea of whether an adopted baby represents a child rejected or a gift given.

Coon inspires in his soft, understated performance of a world-weary Everyman searching for meaning and identity. Sporting wire-frame glasses, his shoulders hunched and his otherwise towering physique humbled, he lends tremendous gravity to the role of one spurned by fate and striving for continuity.

Under David Stradley's subtle direction, we don't so much cheer for Bill as begin to identify with his struggle - a powerful compliment to a play that winds its way through the unfortunate subculture of adult adopted children looking for birth parents.

Through Bill's quest, Beautiful Boy celebrates the strength of family and heritage against the despair of isolation. Compared to the soul-excavating, familial works of Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, Conger's play depicts one man's journey, not into daylight or redemption, but into a greater understanding of those perennially unsettled questions of who we are and why we're going.


THEATER REVIEW

Beautiful Boy

At the Independence Studio on 3 at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St. through March 9.

Tickets: $30 to $40. Information: 215-574-3550 or www.walnutstreettheatre.org

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