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Potent punch

The Boy Who Danced on Air at Diversionary Theater

Sittichai Chaiyahat and Troy Iwata in The Boy Who Danced on Air
Sittichai Chaiyahat and Troy Iwata in The Boy Who Danced on Air

A man steps onto a partially lit stage to narrate the story. Behind him, projected onto a scrim, another man zips up the back of a dress for a young boy.

In Afghanistan, there’s a practice known as bacha bazi (literally, “boy play"), where wealthy men buy boys from poor families. The boys, known as bacha bareesh, receive extensive training in dance and music, so they can be shown off in women’s clothing at male parties. Reports of rape and sexual abuse are common.

Jahandar owns Paiman, 15, quiet and innocent, wears a teal dress. Jahandar is a firm believer in foundations, stability, and “the fabric of power.” The character would have been easily caricatured. But in Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser’s world-premiere musical, he has complexity and even humanity. Jahandar’s buddy Zemar jests throughout. He owns Feda, a brash and seemingly confident 17-year-old, who explodes with barrel turns. The two boys develop feelings for one another, and the musical explores themes of love, tenderness, and beauty without being sentimental.

The boys promise to run away together. “In the city there’s an airport if you need to get away,” the duet sings, as the refusal to bury their dreams brims. Tragedy strikes. The narrator pulls the scrim to hide the site of an accident.

The musical hits close to home: idealization of youthfulness over age and decay — not only in gay circles but in larger cultures; economics of the flesh with nightclub go-go dancers; guises masking sexual abuse. Paiman is played by slim, supple Troy Iwata, whose hand movements are smoke and whose performance is effortless.

Feda is played by Sittichai Chaiyahat. Athletic and lissome, he has the right amount of assuredness, bordering on arrogance.

The scenic design for Diversionary juxtaposes hard, angular lines with soft, flowing draperies, curtains, and scarves, and includes crucial props: barrels of oil against the wall; a deck of cards the men play; a knife with a whirling dervish inscribed on it.

Directed by Tony Speciale, with fight choreography by George Ye, the movements are always effective, especially the viscerally potent punches and kicks. And the five-person band, tucked behind sheer linens, provides melodic accompaniments with Middle-Eastern inflections.

Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights

Playing through June 12

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Sittichai Chaiyahat and Troy Iwata in The Boy Who Danced on Air
Sittichai Chaiyahat and Troy Iwata in The Boy Who Danced on Air

A man steps onto a partially lit stage to narrate the story. Behind him, projected onto a scrim, another man zips up the back of a dress for a young boy.

In Afghanistan, there’s a practice known as bacha bazi (literally, “boy play"), where wealthy men buy boys from poor families. The boys, known as bacha bareesh, receive extensive training in dance and music, so they can be shown off in women’s clothing at male parties. Reports of rape and sexual abuse are common.

Jahandar owns Paiman, 15, quiet and innocent, wears a teal dress. Jahandar is a firm believer in foundations, stability, and “the fabric of power.” The character would have been easily caricatured. But in Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser’s world-premiere musical, he has complexity and even humanity. Jahandar’s buddy Zemar jests throughout. He owns Feda, a brash and seemingly confident 17-year-old, who explodes with barrel turns. The two boys develop feelings for one another, and the musical explores themes of love, tenderness, and beauty without being sentimental.

The boys promise to run away together. “In the city there’s an airport if you need to get away,” the duet sings, as the refusal to bury their dreams brims. Tragedy strikes. The narrator pulls the scrim to hide the site of an accident.

The musical hits close to home: idealization of youthfulness over age and decay — not only in gay circles but in larger cultures; economics of the flesh with nightclub go-go dancers; guises masking sexual abuse. Paiman is played by slim, supple Troy Iwata, whose hand movements are smoke and whose performance is effortless.

Feda is played by Sittichai Chaiyahat. Athletic and lissome, he has the right amount of assuredness, bordering on arrogance.

The scenic design for Diversionary juxtaposes hard, angular lines with soft, flowing draperies, curtains, and scarves, and includes crucial props: barrels of oil against the wall; a deck of cards the men play; a knife with a whirling dervish inscribed on it.

Directed by Tony Speciale, with fight choreography by George Ye, the movements are always effective, especially the viscerally potent punches and kicks. And the five-person band, tucked behind sheer linens, provides melodic accompaniments with Middle-Eastern inflections.

Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights

Playing through June 12

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