Presented by Basement Productions
Boys Don’t Cry is a musical, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, that tackles the subject of toxic masculinity. The story centres on Jayden, a high school soccer star trying to become the man his family expects; he isn’t sure, though, if that is the best man he could be.
Jayden (Mateo Lewis) has been hiding his sensitive side and some artistic inclinations, but then he meets a new girl in school: Rosanne (Aveleigh Keller). Feisty and feminist, she encourages Jayden to explore his love for poetry. This puts him in conflict with his mother, Carol (Sara McMillan-Stahmer), and his uber-jock brother, Brock (Carson Betz).
This piece is written (book, music and lyrics) by Mateo Lewis. He’s quite young, currently in his third year at Sheridan College, which makes this a particularly exceptional accomplishment. There’s a certain naiveté in some aspects of the story, but that’s not uncommon for feel-good musicals of this sort.
The main inspiration for Jayden’s unhealthy model of masculinity is his dead father, who we learn was quite a bully. In a clever bit of story structure: Jayden’s current situation is juxtaposed with his younger self (Zach Stahmer), learning from his father the manly art of stifling emotions.
I was particularly impressed by a scene that occurs between Carol and Rosanne. An older, somewhat jaded woman meets a younger, more idealistic one. I’m glad that, in a male protagonist’s story that takes aim at toxic masculinity, Lewis has represented an intriguing female relationship that totally passes the Bechdal test!
The whole cast turn in exceptional performances that sell all of the heightened emotions. If there is one weakness, I’d say it was Betz’s completely unsympathetic portrayal of the bullying brother Brock. He does have a very quick redemption in the final scenes, but there could be some nuance beforehand. This isn’t entirely a performance issue though; Brock’s been written with that one-note.
Christopher Wilson’s direction is full of striking visual moments that are dynamic and meaningful while maintaining a perfect naturalism. During a very sweet song called “Normal,” where Rosanne tells Jayden know how much she appreciates him, there is a beautiful moment of affection between them that is so perfectly touching, I found myself—quite unexpectedly—in tears.
Despite some aspects of the story that feel a little cloying, Boys Don’t Cry is a thoroughly compelling, admirable work from a young musical theatre artist.