Watching the gorgeously produced, inventive new British theater import Coram Boy, I couldn’t help but feel an inherent cultural disconnect between the audience and the happenings on stage.
In mid-18th-century London, the events at Coram Hospital (an actual orphanage) sent controversial, real-life ripples through England, and are here dramatized through fictional smarmy outcast, Gardiner, who elicits bribes from unwed mothers in exchange for silently bringing their children to Coram. In reality, he and his mentally incapacitated son kill these babies. Concurrently, we also follow the adolescent, privileged, music-loving Alexander Ashbrook, his love-interest Melissa, and their dealings with Gardiner and the Hospital. Though by no means a musical, there’s an orchestra and choir, and Handel’s music (the founder of the Coram Hospital was Handel’s biggest patron) dramatizes the action directly and indirectly throughout the performance. The cast is lovely (especially impressive are the ensemble of women who most often play young boys), and the music and visuals are expressive — director Melly Still has achieved her goals. But from the outset, this play is melodrama, taking itself so seriously as to become alienating, not engrossing.
It is easy to forget our cultural differences with our neighbors across the pond (we practically speak the same language, after all), but it can reach beyond universal health care and the employment of the metric system. Sure, there are loads of successful transfers between our two theater hubs, but there are also plenty of misses. However, if you go in for Royal Family gossip and tea instead of coffee, perhaps the dramatic overload of Coram Boy is for you.