Singer Michael Jackson was probably the world’s biggest celebrity and music icon in 1993 when he was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year old boy during the boy’s visits to Jackson’s California Neverland ranch. The case never came to court because Jackson settled with the family for $23 million. The tabloid frenzy that resulted was stunning. Jackson’s reputation was ruined and his career went into a decline. Did he or didn’t he? Who lied? Who told the truth? Playwright Rider Strong has fictionalized the family involved in his play Never Ever Land which is receiving its World Premiere by Theatre Unleashed at Studio/Stage.
Strong tells his story in alternating scenes from the 1993 events in the past to the present of 2012 when the older brother of the boy involved tries to use his father’s notes on the scandal to create a career for himself in tabloid television. Young Tim (Marcello Silva) and Young Jacob (Orlando Christian) are step-brothers and children of bitter divorced couple Gerry (Josh Randall), a dentist who really wants to be a screenwriter, and DeAnna (Marie-Francoise Theodore), a struggling actress. Deanna permits Jacob to spend an inordinate amount of un-chaperoned time with Jackson on weekends at his secluded ranch. In the present Tim (Andrew Brian Carter) offers the true dirt on the scandal to tabloid TV mogul Vincent Hark (Leif Gantvoort) in return for a job with Hark-TV. Tim was left out of the family’s financial settlement and is desperate for a job in show biz. His father committed suicide a few months after Jackson’s death, leaving Tim supposedly with the real details of the scandal. The now grown Jacob (Wade F. Wilson) is living the high life on his millions, driving a Lamborghini, drinking $110 bottles of wine and impressing his latest girlfriend Erin (Ashley Platz). Erin, a New York blogger new to Hollywood, has her own shady interests in Jacob and the scandal.
The cast does a decent job of inhabiting their characters; the problem being they are all extremely unlikable, even the kids. You won’t want to spend any time with them let alone the interminable two hours it takes for Strong to conclude his tale that finally ends without much of a resolution. Director Michael A. Sheppard keeps the staccato action somewhat interesting with the loud and raucous scene changes featuring the video designs of Shiloh and Rider Strong.