Stefhen Bryan Has a Story to Tell! – One-Man Play, "Doodu Boy"
Markdown:Thank goodness the title was not an indication of the production I saw on Saturday July 12 at the Soho Playhouse downtown. The penultimate show in the current run of Jamaican Stefhen Bryan’s Doodu Boy was 94 minutes of intimacy, poignancy and heartbreak as on a stark stage, Bryan brings to life the story of his impoverished and harrowing childhood, his life-long quest for approval from an uncaring and broken father and a misguided and zealously religious mother. The audience in the intimate Soho Theatre’s downstairs space, holds on for dear life as Bryan’s early years unfold in a series of heartbreaking vignettes. We share his tears as he recalls the early rejection of a father he idolizes, squirm uncomfortably at the indignity of him facing NYPD police – called by his father who for reasons unexplained turns his back on his son, but yet names his new son Steven! Bryan finds his way after getting the opportunity to travel to America and even though his dreams are shattered, his resilience and will to survive and determination to prove that he will amount to something is the indelible force that impels him to redemption through education and the intervention that he says saved his life – cognitive behavioral therapy.A UCLA graduate with a degree in Economics, his fascination with East-Asian women led him to a career teaching English in Japan. Taking a leap of faith to travel across the world to experience a culture unknown to him he meets and eventually marries ‘Monster Hymen Lady’ – Nozomi [Japanese for hope] and sets out on a path to fulfil his own destiny at the same time coming to terms with the fact that his father’s approval will never be forthcoming. The play speaks volumes in addressing the cancer that afflicts many people and is not specific to any one group or country – the cancer of absentee fathers.Encouraged to bring this production to stage by Debra Ehrhrdt of Jamaica Farewell, this one-man play is directed by Jared Scheib and plans are already in the pipeline to take the show to Jamaica, London and – hopefully – Broadway.Everyone has a story, Bryan urges, us to tell our stories – he certainly does.
Santa Monica Daily Press
‘Doodu Boy’ a funny, powerful testament to the human spirit
Bryan, pictured performing on stage, collaborated for two years on 'Doodu Boy' with director and dramaturgical adapter Jared Scheib.
Stefhen Bryan at 4 years old in Jamaica
DOWNTOWN — Los Angeles has a lot of black box theatre. The kind where all 99 members of the audience can hear the soundboard changing cues and view all $10 of the theatre company’s production budget onstage. Los Angeles has a lot of cringe-worthy theatre.
But occasionally, a piece comes along that is so compelling, so beautifully structured and played with such raw honesty that it transcends the boundaries of the theatre walls. “Doodu Boy,” at the Santa Monica Playhouse in a limited run, is such a piece.
Conceived, written and performed by Jamaican artist Stefhen Bryan, “Doodu Boy” is an autobiographical journey of such searing pain, its miracle is in just how much you laugh your way through to its poignant, but triumphant conclusion.
Bryan collaborated for two years on “Doodu Boy” with director and dramaturgical adapter Jared Scheib, and their friendship is unlikely. Bryan — as we learn in the play — grew up surrounded by poverty in Jamaica, graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics and ended up teaching English half a world away.
Scheib is a self-described artist-entrepreneur from Texas who attended USC to study film production and neuroscience as an inaugural member of the Brain and Creativity Institute. Together, they illustrated Bryan’s life from abused childhood through a youth struggling for identity, to adulthood stripped of hubris, revealing a hard-won peace. It makes for a mesmerizing 95 minutes.
This is theatre at its most elemental; a lit stage, two rectangular boxes that become a number of different props, no musical cues and one man. Bryan begins his story as a young boy in Kingston, living in a one-room house with a mother whose fierce love is applied as liberally as her regular beatings given to ensure his righteous path to God. In Bryan’s performance, you can feel the sting of each whack of his mother’s supple hickory stick.
He earns the name “Doodu Boy” in a hilarious enactment of a childhood moment of innocent play gone wrong, and it just fuels the boy’s determination to escape the indigence of his home life for the bright lights and assuredly big city adventures his father lives in Brooklyn. When “Stevie” finally gets to leave Jamaica to go live with his father, in his own bedroom, with a cool dad who drives him around in cool cars, he can’t believe his luck.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn out so well. “Junior” Bryan is “tall and skinny like a coconut tree” and he has the cool cars, but not a shred of paternal instincts, and his ultimate rejection of Stevie is scathing and confounding. However, through the kindness of strangers, a lively intellect and a lot of psychotherapy, Stefhen comes out of an itinerant adolescence with a degree from a noteworthy Southern California university and a determination to show his father that he made something of himself.
But Junior isn’t ready to hear it. His rebuff of his son is agonizing and infuriating and very, very funny. In his rebound, Stefhen finds himself in Japan, reveling in the “rice fields” of nubile, willing young women and burying himself in a culture a world away from his own. It’s a good fit; Bryan’s public description of deflowering his girlfriend is so forthright and hysterical, it is a tribute to her good nature that she is still married to him.
But, if, as Faulkner said, the past is never dead, Bryan finally learns how much it’s not even past. Some long overdue candor from his mother tells Stefhen more about his father than he probably wants to know, but also allows him forgiveness and the chance to see the lengths people go just to cope with so much unfairness of things.
Ultimately, Bryan’s new sense of identity is ready to seek some kind of resolution with his father. Their inevitable confrontation is heartbreaking, but, somehow, you know Stefhen is going to be OK.
Bryan’s performance is astonishing. His enactments are so spot-on, you can smell the leather of that new car on the bare stage and see the colorful fabric of a Jamaican woman’s dress. Playing some half dozen characters, he moves seamlessly between roles, transforming vocally and physically with such precision and emotional investment that you would swear there was more than one person on stage.
“Doodu Boy” was originally sponsored by the Jamaica Cultural Alliance as part of their mission to expand American awareness of Jamaican culture and heritage. But Bryan’s tale surpasses cultural identity and allows us a peep into the frailty and power of the universal human spirit. This is story telling at its very finest.
The Jamaica Daily Gleaner
One man’s life in three acts
Stefhen Brysn’s Doodu Boy opens today
So far, Stefhen Bryan has had as far-flung an experience presenting Doodu Boy as his life. Which is appropriate, as the one-man show is autobiographical, Bryan using the production's three acts to relive on stage distinct phases of his life in different countries.
Bryan told The Gleaner that Act One covers from his birth to 15 years old in Jamaica. Act Two is set in the USA up to when he was 36 years old, and the third up to the present in Japan.
So in July 2013, Doodu Boy played in Los Angeles, California, with another US stint the following year. He has also played in Japan, doing shows in Tokyo, Kobe, and Osaka. Now, he will be taking Doodu Boy home publicly (there has been a restricted showing previously, as well as one for the schools Bryan attended in Jamaica) as it runs from Thursday, June 11, until Sunday, June 14, at the Theatre Place in New Kingston.
He is also the author of Black Passenger Yellow Cabs: A Memoir of Exile and Excess in Japan and Only Begotten.
While Bryan sums up Doodu Boy as "95 very good minutes", he makes adjustments to the script based on where he is presenting the artistic expression of his life. "When I am doing it in Japan, there is a lot of Japanese in the text. In Jamaica, I can let loose and not be worried if it is accessible to a multicultural audience," he said. "In New York, I put in more patois."
However, Bryan said the language adjustments "do not change the core of what the play is about".
A lot of what Doodu Boy (a nickname Bryan got as a child after falling into a cesspool) is about is emotionally distressing - as was a life in which Bryan repeatedly considered suicide - and being on stage takes him back to those moments. "That is why I am able to present it on stage and why I can be vulnerable," Bryan said.
However, releasing the emotions is not a simple matter of relieving himself of a burden. "It is not therapeutic on stage. It is actually quite painful. I go there every tine," Bryan said. At least one very close family member has avoided the pain. My father refused to see it," Bryan said. While his mother died 12 years ago, her sisters have seen Doodu Boy.
As a child of the 1970s, Bryan has seen some social unpleasantries in Jamaica. He clearly remembers a Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) armoured vehicle providing an escort for students from his area going to primary school during the deeply politically divisive and deadly violent period. He also saw fearsome police special units at work ("Shot, gun butt, chop ...").
However. Bryan also saw at least one thing that remained with him and led to sensory delights. "My preference for yellow East Asian women started in Dunkirk (where he grew up in a church community) with Mr Chin shop with Mr Chin wife and daughter. I developed this
fascination from an early age." Bryan said. In addition, he said, "they became my economic role models".
He had a somewhat turbulent time in the US before settling down and now living between Japan and California. Now married, Bryan said, "We all have a story. Not all the people have the courage to share their story."
The Japan Times
Bringing a 'cesspool to sushiland' life to the stage
Show tells story of Stefhen Bryan's journey from poverty in Jamaica to sex and self-discovery in Japan
“Coming to Japan was the best decision I’ve ever made,” says Stefhen Bryan, loud and enthusiastically, contrasting with the frown he was making a moment earlier at the miso-flavored ramen he’d ordered and just tasted. “Should’ve gotten the salt-flavored.”
I had ordered the salt-flavored, and offered to swap with him. His spirits rose as we exchanged bowls, while the attractive waitress at this popular ramen shop in Jiyugaoka stood by watching this transaction with a bewildered smile painted on her face. Glancing around, you wouldn’t have known we were the center of attention amid this bustling shop filled with people who were effectively pretending as if they hadn’t noticed us at all. But we were.
Doodu Boy at the Santa Monica Playhouse
Stefhen Bryan. Photo by Hansen Do
If you are at a lost at what to do next Sunday or fancy taking a break from the game on Superbowl Sunday, try taking a trip to the Santa Monica Playhouse to see the one man show DOODU BOY. DOODU BOY is an entertaining autobiographical tale of the life of its writer and actor Stefhen Bryan . Produced by Debra Ehrhardt of Jamaica Farewell fame, DOODU BOY is a story of personal triumph over adversity from a man whose troubled life started in his homeland Jamaica and continued when he moved to the United States, finally reconciled when he moved to Japan.
DOODU BOY takes the audience on an intense and emotional journey through Bryan’s abusive childhood in Dunkirk (Passmore Town), a poor, depressed region of Kingston, Jamaica. Having been abandoned by his father, the young Steve is brought up as one boy surrounded by a host of women on a church commune with his single Christian mother, whose daily mantra seems to be, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. Nothing in his life seems to go right. A rare happy childhood moment is ruined when one day he loses control of his tricycle and falls, “Slumdog Millionaire” style into a cesspool, then earns the title name Doodu Boy. Between the beatings, young Steve dreams of going to America and bonding with his father. He gets his chance, but in a bizarre twist, his father changes his mind and turns his back on him. Stefhen grows suicidal and embraces his sexual addiction. After years of therapy, he manages to graduate with a degree in economics and gets a job teaching English in Japan. His life changes drastically. He masters the language and discovers a candy box of Japanese women ready and willing to feed his sexual appetite. One, in particular, will change his life forever.
Bryan’s script is admirably brave and humorous. It’s a candid exposé of a traumatic upbringing that in true Jamaican fashion, gives us wit and verve, rather than anger and self-pity. Yet through the laughter we do not lose sight of the reality of the pain.
Bryan’s performance is equally stunning. He embodies a very true and convincing version of his child, teen and adult self. He takes on board all the many male and females characters in the piece, which include among others, his mother, father, stepmother, the Pastor, church women, sexually needy Japanese women and a hilariously funny Japanese doctor, without caricaturing. Instead, he slinks smoothly and effortlessly into their bodies.
This is an example of minimalist theatre at its best, rich in its simplicity in which a seemingly colorful and diverse world is successfully realized with the clever use of a couple of black boxes, a credit to Director and Dramaturge Jared Scheib.