In a fit of lust and fear, a young man turns to a god-like man for love and guidance. Donald Jolly's new play "Baby Eyes" reimagines the Greek myth and love story of Zeus and Ganymede in 1950s Baltimore to bring to life a racially and sexually charged new work. Jolly, a USC MFA Playwriting alumnus, puts racism, homophobia and ignorance center stage and highlights the relationship between polar opposite characters.
Both his father and the kids at school bully Gio every chance they get. Gio struggles with fitting in because of his size and stature. Despite his size difference, Martinez is able to bring power in his character as the play progresses. Gio begins as a one-dimensional character: scared and alone. When he runs away from his bullies, he finds Tremaine (Melvin Ward) alone in the local YMCA on the wrong side of town. Gio discovers Tremaine boxing in the gym while reciting a Shakespeare sonnet and is captivated. It is a wonder to believe that Zeus and Ganymede could meet in a dingy YMCA in Baltimore and bond over literature and Billie Holiday, but the strong writing of these characters brings this myth to life.
From then on, Martinez adds power to his innocent character in his vocal power. Tremaine offers to teach Gio self-defense after he shares the abuse he has received. A flirtatious companionship sparks between the two as their training sessions go on. But Gio's worlds collide when tensions between his abusive father and love interest erupt. Tremaine's connection with Gio is border-line pedophilic, and he knows this. Tremaine attempts to escape but is thwarted by his connection to Gio.
Under the direction of Jon Lawrence Rivera, "Baby Eyes" combines traditional Greek theatre with modern day language and movement. The Greek chorus opens up the small stage to a larger landscape. The "Gaggle" (Jason Caceres, James Kaemmerling, and Dennis Renard) serve as a gay Greek chorus and introduces Gio (Rudy Martinez) to a world of judgment and strife. They also act as furies, surrounding Gio to 'swoop' him into the next scene and take on additional characters. This traditional greek aspect of theatre is used wittingly. Having these men gender-bend as additional characters in the story help embrace the queerness of the play.
Jolly's writing is succinct and poignant at times, especially when incorporating Shakespeare and Greek text into the script. As things grow violent, the syle of the show becomes overly dramatic. Although it may be within the aesthetic of 'epic' greek theatre, the stylistic shift feels shocking at first, but eventually is cohesive with the entire piece. Despite the unexpected tonal shift and shocking events that transpire, the overall production shines a light on important microaggressions and facets of racism and homophobia. It also highlights the importance of the relationship between Gio and Tremaine as they rely on each other for support.
There is one moment in which it hard to understand if Gio is in a fantasy or reality. However, lighting designer Brad Bentz alters reality in purple and blue hues to highlight Gio's inner workings. In collaboration with scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo, they transform the small playing space into a larger world, whether going between apartments or from reality to a world of fantasy. Murillo's versatile set design replicates the '50s and offers the opportunity to transform mundane objects; chairs become obstacles and a desk becomes an operating table.
Both the production team and cast work in sync to create a tightly knit modernized rendition of a classic myth. Underneath the impressive and epic production of Godly love is a story that is intrinsically human at heart.
"Baby Eyes" runs now through November 5th at the Atwater Village Theatre. Tickets start at $15, though prices are subject to change, and can be purchased here.