Chris Weikel’s new play “Secret Identity” dives into the complex world of teenage bullying, framing it through the lead character’s escape into his beloved comic books. Sixteen-year-old JT (Keith Weiss) is closeted to everyone, but is nevertheless dogged by the homophobic taunts of his nemesis, Mal (Zachary Gault). Even JT’s straight buddy and partner-in-nerddom Reg (Nicky Maindiratta) says that JT’s ideas for the comic they’re planning to write together are “gay.” The sympathetic teacher from school, Mr. Loomis (David Leeper), and JT’s mother (Jamie Heinlein) mean well, but can’t do much more than worry about the awkward young man.
It’s not until Trey (Kory Alexander Majansky), a handsome new student who knows JT from their elementary school soccer days, starts being his friend that JT allows himself to begin to open up to a world beyond the comics. But as he does so, the comics in his head begin to come to life. Guise (Michael Flood) is the protagonist of JT and Reg’s comic, with the camouflage powers of a chameleon, which parallel JT’s need to hide in the real world by sidestepping bullies or making them laugh. Still, JT finds himself more interested in the enigmatic and brawny Paladin (the hilarious Michael Joseph Murray), who — like Trey himself — may become a friend or a foe. Reality and fantasy mix as JT navigates the treacherous world of teen camaraderie, discovering who can be counted on as an ally.
The play has a lot to say about maturing as a gay man in a world that doesn’t value queerness or otherness, and how good friends can get you through the harder parts. Weikel clearly has a lot of experience with and a deep love for comics, and it shows: deep cuts and fun geek jokes abound.
The mostly-young cast is uniformly great, believably hitting the right shades of teen angst. Director Mark Finley deftly helps them navigate the tricky swings from ‘80s-style teen comedy and drama to superhero origin story. The production is also well served by the great costumes (Ben Philipp), set design (Scott Mancha), and sound design and original music (Morry Campbell).
The producer, TOSOS (The Other Side Of Silence), is the oldest professional LGBTQ theater company in New York, and it consistently presents interesting queer work, including the upcoming revival of “Street Theater,” the late Doric Wilson’s classic play about the Stonewall Riots, which will be part of this year’s Stonewall 50/ WorldPride celebrations.
SECRET IDENTITY | The Flea, 20 Thomas St., btwn. Church St. & Broadway | Jan. 24-26, 30-31, Feb. 1-2 at 7 p.m. | $32 at tosos