Feelings, or at least talking about them in the English language, is a relatively new phenomenon. The Oxford English Dictionary and other etymological sources date "to feel" in the sense of "to touch" back several millennia. But "to feel" in the sense of "to have an emotion" crops up only a few times around the 1400s and then really takes off in the 1800s, when the Romantics get down to the business of suffering, exalting, swooning, writing, painting, committing suicide, and introducing a whole new vocabulary for rhapsodies and neuroses.
The Kid, an unnamed and willow-thin high-school boy who gets bullied for having two moms in Mallery Avidon's play queerSpawn (having its West Coast premiere at Eclectic Theater), is one of those characters who suffers from feeling too much. He's not gay, but it doesn't matter: His tormenters spray-paint "fag" on his locker, tape him into cardboard boxes, and taunt him in the classroom—"faggot faggot bo baggot, banana fanana fo faggot, fe fi mo maggot, faggot"—so relentlessly, even the nerds won't sit with him at lunch.
The Kid (played by Jordan Henderson with youthful weariness, like a child exhausted by his own emotions) doesn't want to tell his moms, so he resorts to cartoonish imaginary companions. There's the "African kid" (Markeith Wiley), who does a stereotypical "African" dance, high-stepping one leg and then another, his arms and head bobbing from side to side, while he talks about poverty and malaria, then complains to his creator that "you could at least think of less ridiculous things for me to say." There's Fred Phelps (Chris Trover), who brutally encourages The Kid to end his suffering and kill himself. And there's Dan Savage (Trover again), who wears blue jeans and a rainbow-colored T-shirt and nods sagely as The Kid grouses that the It Gets Better project doesn't speak to his generation: "Most of you are rich," The Kid says. "And the world was different... There were jobs. And college didn't cost a bazillion dollars. So this whole 'survive-high-school-go-to-college-somewhere-better-and-it'll-all-be-okay' plan doesn't look like it's gonna work out."
The play, with its small whirlwind of one-dimensional characters, doesn't come to any conclusions, offer any answers, or contain any surprises. (In his review of queerSpawn for the New York Times last year, critic Charles Isherwood says this stasis "may be a mild dramatic drawback"—in this production, at least, it's a fundamental and serious one.) The Kid winds up in the hospital a couple of times, and his central tormenter (a sneering jock played by Robert Lovett) pays him a courtesy visit because his ward has cable TV, which offers a brief glimmer of hope for their future. But at its heart, queerSpawn is a one-act slice of monochromatic desperation. The Kid is smart but stuck in his homophobic hometown—and stuck in his head. Avidon has written her central character into a labyrinth of bad feelings and left him there so we can feel bad for him, too. He's like Goethe's Young Werther, one of those Romantic characters of the late 18th century who felt acutely and circled the drain of his own misery. (The book was banned in several countries because of the suicides it provoked among young men.) All we can do is look, sigh, and move on.