When I was young I set a bunch of lofty goals for myself to achieve before I could happily die… the older I get the more I realize I must continually set higher and higher points of satisfaction because life is full of odd moments wherein I realize I’ve achieved happiness I never conceived. Watching “Two Boys” provided such a moment: never had I thought the acronyms O.M.G. or 7-1/2 cc able to attain the snooty status of operatic. But they have, as well as many others. It truly was a beautiful moment watching Susan Bickley move the simplistic O.M.G. to newfound vocal heights. Sadly, she didn’t pronounce it O.M.G., instead she sung OOOOOH MY GAWWWDDDDD in order for the traditional Opera going crowd to understand the acronym written out on the Talking Notes screen. Bringing Internet acronyms into the opera surely must have been a challenge for the creative minds behind Two Boys as Internet acronyms aren’t known to be very poetic language gestures. Instead, they’re usually argued to be the end of the English language… Eat your heart out, Keats, for language is rapidly (d)evolving. The detective on the case, played by Bickley, hired to solve the attempted murder of Jake, played by Jonathan McGovern, challenged Internet language in the end of the first act as she questioned the necessity of the dark online reality the two boys delved into. But the show as a whole seemed to prove her wrong as the dark world of the Internet triumphantly declares its role in the modern world, for better or worse, as the characters reveal their own “must-achieve” life goals.
The show opened with the detective pouring herself a drink whilst singing of the senseless crime she must solve. She explains that nothing makes any sense and that a gardener, missing girl, and a spy are involved. Linear thought is then abandoned as Jake enters the stage and lays in a hospital bed, his mother comes to his side as a doctor explains that he may not awake. The detective then enters into the hospital reality to ask about the fallen boy. The mother praises her son, who in the end, is revealed to be a genius. Then Brian, played by Nicky Spence, enters and is questioned by the detective in regards to his involvement in the crime. Brian wholeheartedly denies the murder charge and says the gardener is to blame. The detective meets Brian’s parents, played by Rebecca Stockland and Paul Napier-Burrows, both demand that Brian be released to no avail. Throughout the play it becomes more and more apart neither knew their son as well as they believed, and Brian’s daily life was a performative mask hiding his deep desire for acceptance and intimate love. At one point, Brian declares the internet is better than the world, it’s more real and full of all kinds of people his parents and teacher’s can’t see.
The “friends” Brian’s authority figures can’t see are the missing girl (Rebecca), played by Mary Bevan, and the spy (Fiona), played by Heather Shipp. Rebecca is Brian’s personification of love; despite ever meeting her physically, she leads him down his dark path after meeting on a message board. Fiona is Rebecca’s aunt, a spy that works for the government; she holds the keys to Brian’s mysterious passage. The two women seduce Brian with tales of love, money and secrecy. Brian fixates on the reality they weave for him and winds up enslaved to the stories they spin, never does he question their words nor does he heed their warnings. The show uses collaging techniques to effectively bring all the different realities and stories to life simultaneously, video is coupled with singing as the many voices are portrayed.
Being in the audience for opening night was a treat for me as the dark, other worldy subject matter: a teenage stabbing, internet chatrooms, and cybersexual predators are all too familiar yet rarely are they discussed outside of the privacy of our computer screens. And it’s the dark side of the net that has long fascinated me as it’s hallways and labyrinthine social capabilities have provided me a more enriched life. I’m very pleased golden boy, Nico Muhly, took up such a progressive piece and brought it to life. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I caught on to the unrevealed subplot driving the narrative early on and I really felt for both boys. Both evil, full of love and desire yet unable to express their wantonness due to the trappings of our savage day to day reality. The genius of one proves to be the death of the other; the true magnificence of the show comes in the myriad of surprises. From the very beginning the ending is revealed, yet continually what one thinks to be truth, shifts. Perhaps an homage to the fickle nature of truth, which has become more and more evident with the addition of wikipedia, wikilinks and other such sites to the world. One only needs to flip on the nightly news to understand just how scary and dangerous our present world, but at the Opera, one is able to transcend the trappings as the grimmest truths are elevated to beautiful, lofty heights.