‘The Storytelling Ability of a Boy' at Aurora Theatre

You have to admire Aurora Theatre for putting its black box to good use. While many playhouses are virtually eliminating the alternative offerings of their secondary spaces (see Theatre in the Square’s Alley Stage), the Lawrenceville theater has launched its Georgia Gwinnett College Lab Series, which seeks to engage the under-30 crowd with provocative new work.

But Carter W. Lewis’ “The Storytelling Ability of a Boy” — which describes a weird love triangle among a high school teacher and a pair of precocious, sexually confused students — is a perplexing choice. A bruising account of adolescent angst that packs a ridiculous array of issues, buried secrets and violent episodes (not to mention a little narrative experimentation and a live cello performance),  the play is a lesson in melodrama and excess.

Directed with a heavy hand by Anthony Rodriguez, the show features Nick Arapoglou as the poetic and energetic Peck; Bethany Anne Lind as his troubled sidekick, Dora, and Suehyla El-Attar as Caitlin, the emotionally involved teacher with a mysterious past. To be fair, “Storytelling” does capture something of the raw adrenaline rush of a couple of kids intoxicated by the power of words and sexual discovery. Drunk with the possibility of language and making stuff up, Peck has a mad crush on best friend Dora, who prefers to keep the relationship platonic for reasons that are eventually revealed.

In the meantime, Peck and Dora riff on Pavarotti and Gandhi and torment Caitlin with a series of brutal encounters involving nail guns and hunting rifles. Someone will get beaten to a bloody pulp by a bunch of high-school bullies.  And after a series of revelations about child molestation, lesbian relationships and sexual dysfunction, the story ends with a sentimental, idealized vision of the future.

As if this weren’t confusing enough, Lewis tries to deconstruct the very art of storytelling with distracting twaddle about narrative technique. The device  has a phony, written-in-italics quality that feels false and truncated. Poor Caitlin can’t decide whether she wants to tell the tale from the sidelines or participate in it, and the writer indulges in a sophomoric amount of Freudian allusion and metaphor. Every drill and every quill is laden with sexual innuendo.

Considering the turgid material and histrionic tone, the cast soldiers on rather admirably, though El-Attar does succumb to a little hand wringing. The program and press materials describe the play as a “wickedly dark comedy." That's a misnomer. There’s not a thing funny about this ill-conceived drama, and it’s hard to say which is more lost: the characters or the script. Wildly uneven and unappealing, “The Storytelling Ability of a Boy” feels out tune in nearly every way. Only the mournful playing of cellist April Still rings true.

If Aurora wants to build new audiences, it must do better than this.

Theater review

“The Storytelling Ability of a Boy”

Grade: D+

8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Through May 2. $15. Aurora Theatre, 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222, auroratheatre.com