Bold musical at Abingdon Theater sheds light on taboo subject
By Patrick Christiano
May 30, 2017: Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser’s courageous musical, The Boy Who Danced On Air, now playing at the Abingdon Theater through June 11, 2017, tackles an Afghanistan custom know as Bacha Bazi, meaning “boy play.” The law in Afghanistan prohibits married men from having extramarital affairs with other women, however destitute parents often sell their young boys to wealthy men, who teach them to dance dressed as women. These boys are not only an amusement to the men and their friends, but are frequently used for sex, becoming their sex slaves.
The tale, inspired by a 2010 PBS documentary, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan,” and directed by Tony Speciale with great sensitivity, is a heart wrenching look a boy named Paiman, played beautifully by the ethereal Troy Iwata. Paiman is sold to a wealthy man named Jahandar, who sternly informs him “Men have needs.” Jonathan Raviv gives a solid performance as the boy’s master, who forms a unique bond with Paiman until the boy reaches maturity.
The story begins with shadowy figures behind a translucent scrim and a foreboding stranger in the foreground, played by Deven Kolluri. The stranger appears throughout the evening, as an observer/narrator, punctuating moments of Paiman’s conflicts, as the boy struggles to make sense of his strange new world. When Paiman meets Feda, played by a charismatic Nikhil Saboo, his life is dramatically challenged.
Feda’s owner Zemar, played by Osh Ghanimah, is a friend of Jahandar and treats him harshly. Just as Jahandar is attempting to find himself a new dancing boy and to marry-off Paiman to a girl, as his tradition demands, Feda seduces Paiman. He then brashly encourages the youngman to run away with him. The two dance exhalating duets with wistful innocence choreographed by Nejla Yatkin, however back at home, Jahandar tells Paiman, “If you decide the traditions are nothing, then you have nothing. You are only dancing on air.”
If Shone’s book takes unnecessary tangents, the three men at the heart of the conflict, nonetheless, head an impressive cast. The the dancing is beautiful and the singing is top notch. Rosser and Sohne’s The Boy Who Danced on Air is a touching, profoundly moving musical.
The Boy Who Danced On Air
Now playing at Abingdon Theatre Company’s June Havoc Theatre
312 W. 36th St., New York
Through June 11, 2017
212-352-3101 or www.abingdontheatre.org
Photos: Maria Baranova