Written and Performed by Jeremy Rafal; Directed by Josh Boerman
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 8.30.15
VENUE #4: Spectrum, 121 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor
by Mateus Ciucci Ferreira on 8.26.15
Jeremy Rafal in The Boy From Bantay. Photo by Dmitry Beryozkin.
BOTTOM LINE: A delightful and lively journey into the life of a brightly smiling and greatly talented artist.
We’ve likely all wondered where life would take us if we only allowed ourselves to honor the stubbornness of our hearts instead of silencing our desires and kowtowing to life’s hardships. The Boy from Bantay is Jeremy Rafal’s dynamic and touching telling of that—luckily for us, it brought him all the way from the Philippines to New York City.
This solo play takes us back to his childhood in Bantay, a municipality of Ilocos Sur in his native country, immersing us in a universe that quickly becomes dear to us. With our hearts and ears accompanying him from the get-go, Rafal takes us from the loss of a loved one to Hawaii, from his piano lessons to his journey to the United States in pursuit of his desire of becoming a concert pianist. This pursuit takes him around the world, a pursuit that, when shared by Rafal’s act, shows us that prejudice and racism are everywhere. Orchestrating slides of landscapes and personal pictures with cartoons, live piano performance, and dialogues in both English and Ilocano (Bantay’s most widely spoken language, followed by Tagalog and English), Rafal, a well of promising talent, generates an energetic and touching spectacle.
Through acting that is as bright and sweet as his own personality, Rafal uses a small repertoire of gestures, a conscious exploration of his vocal range and timbre, and some added twists and turns (moments when you can spot the sensitive and intuitive work of choreographer Matthew Walters-Bowens) to bring to life a wide array of characters, making this solo play a warm and humane landscape that is easy to connect with.
With a deceivingly simple air of an intimate conversation amongst friends, The Boy from Bantay, in the hands of able director Josh Boerman, receives musically precise blocking and has its notes and pauses well explored. It’s funny at times without being corny, and touching without being cheesy. Aiding in the final polishing of both the transactions and the scenes themselves is the work of lighting designer Oona Curley, who is almost a painter with lights. Just like the unmentioned music behind the Sunday cartoons Rafal and his brother watched—music that captured his ears and inspired him to become a pianist, music that is enthusiastically revealed by Rafal during the show—there seems to be an untold yet ever-present undercurrent setting the mood for this play: the will to explore something completely different, the will to be unique. Said undercurrent is what seems to be the universal within the personal, it’s what allows us to so easily connect.
(The Boy From Bantay plays at VENUE #4: Spectrum, 121 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor, through August 30, 2015. Performances are Sun 8/16 at 9:45; Thu 8/20 at 3:45; Sun 8/23 at 4:15; Thu 8/27 at 7:15; Sun 8/30 at 1:45. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more show info visit theboyfrombantay.com.)