May 18 2016 03:06 PM

Diversionary Theatre’s season finale is stirring

BOY Dress Rehearsal-11
Troy Iwata (dancing) in The Boy Who Danced On Air
Photo courtesy of Diversionary Theatre

Diversionary Theatre is winding up its 30th season with the most impressive production the University Heights company has offered in recent memory. It’s a world premiere musical (book and lyrics by Charlie Sohne, music by Tim Rosser) called The Boy Who Danced On Air, a mingling of trenchant storytelling, often-affecting music and ethereal choreography.

The premise is on its face a brutal one: In modern-day Afghanistan, the tradition of Bacha Bazi is still being practiced. Young boys are purchased by older men, trained as dancers and singers, and used in private to satisfy the sexual urges of their “mentors.” Then, when the boys are old enough to grow facial hair, they are discarded into an arranged marriage. According to the Diversionary production’s program notes, the practice, once punishable by death in Afghanistan, remains illegal but is basically ignored by the law.

In The Boy Who Danced On Air, directed by Tony Speciale, two boys named Paiman (Troy Iwata) and Feda (Sittichai Chaiyahat) fall in love and revolt. Neither knows any life beyond “dancing boy” until they discover each other, the results of which bring violent consequences.

While the score can be overwrought and expository at times, it is frequently touching, allowing audiences to feel not only what Paiman and Feda are feeling, but also Paiman’s purchaser, Jahandar (Jonathan Raviv), a man at odds with his own emotions and with the obligation to the exploitative tradition. Unseen in the wings is a four-piece band, with musical direction by Cris O’Bryon.

The pulse of the story is Paiman, and Iwata is worthy of the responsibility. He brings earnestness and grace to the role. Chaiyahat is no match for Iwata as a singer, but the stage chemistry is credible. Meanwhile, Raviv’s Jahandar is both a fearful and introspective figure, in either case projecting sharp intensity.

The Boy Who Danced On Air is uplifted, too, by the choreography of Nejla Y. Yatkin, and Shirley Pierson’s costumes further the illusion that you are in the Afghan world. In the case of this show, you’re in a world you probably never knew existed.

The Boy Who Danced On Air runs through June 12 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $25-$45. diversionary.org


Opening:

Stupid Fucking Bird: Young artistic types struggle in Aaron Posner’s irreverent take on Checkov’s The Seagull. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens May 18 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com

A Piece of My Heart: Based on Keith Walker’s oral history of 26 women who served in the Vietnam War, this play tells the story of six of those women. Performed by high school-age students from The Theatre School @ North Coast Rep Presents, it opens for six performances May 19 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org

Eleemosynary: A mother must build a relationship with the daughter she abandoned after a tragedy forces them to be reunited. Presented by Oceanside Theatre Company, it opens for two performances May 20 at the Brooks Theatre in Oceanside. oceansidetheatre.com

Now Playing:

Dinner with Marlene: This world premiere dramedy centers on an actual dinner party that took place in 1938 Paris with movie star Marlene Dietrich and her famous friends. Written by local playwright Anne-Charlotte Harvey, it runs through May 29 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org

Evita: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lavish musical about Eva Peron’s rise from the slums of Argentina to the country’s first lady. Directed by Jessica Brandon, it runs through June 4 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info

Clybourne Park: The Tony and Pulitzer-winning dramedy is set in the same house in a neighborhood of Chicago over two different time periods, and deals in themes of racism and gentrification. Written by Bruce Norris, it runs through June 5 at the Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com

Bedside Manners: A lighthearted British farce about a regular guy who agrees to look after his sister’s seedy country hotel. It runs through June 5 at PowPAC Community Theatre in Escondido. powpac.org

The Boy Who Danced on Air: A new musical drama about the Afghani cultural practice of bacha bazi, where older men engage and often buy boys as young as nine-years-old to train them and “keep” them. It runs through June 12 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org

Chapter Two: The classic Neil Simon play about a writer and widower attempting, rather hilariously, to find love again. It runs through June 12 at the Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com

Hollywood: Set in the ‘20s, his world premiere noir thriller is based on the true story of the unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor. Written by Joe DiPietro, it runs through June 12 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org

Camp David: This new play centers on the 1978 Middle East peace talks between Israel and Egypt and of which the legacy is still felt today. Written by Pulitzer-winner Lawrence Wright, it runs through June 19 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

Woody Guthrie’s American Song: An ensemble musical based on the life of the revered American folk singer and songwriter behind classics like “This Land is Your Land” and “Bound for Glory.” Presented by Intrepid Theatre Company, it runs through June 19 at the Horton Grand Theatre in Downtown. intrepidtheatre.org

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