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Review: Portrait of a Young Man

Posted 7/22/23

If you would like a story that inspires you to “bring yourself back to life,” then Portrait of a Young Man by local playwright Kyle R. Thomas is certainly a good one to sit through.

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Review: Portrait of a Young Man


If you would like a story that inspires you to “bring yourself back to life,” then Portrait of a Young Man by local playwright Kyle R. Thomas is certainly a good one to sit through.

Though not necessarily portraying a young man, the story is from the perspective of a middle-aged history teacher who is also a father and a husband going through a difficult time in his marriage.

While at an old bookstore—one of his favorite past times—he discovers a plane ticket to Florence tucked away in a book. Encouraged by his art history-loving mother, he decides to take his son on an adventure, despite knowing how his wife is going to react.

It’s a one-act, one-man play, and I viewed it at the Mills-Pate Arts Center in Murfreesboro. Thomas himself played the history teacher who wanders about a room, adorned in a classic short-sleeved button-up and slacks, while his son sleeps in the other room. A bottle of wine and a glass eventually come to sit on a small table near the speaker. 

Thomas, in character, pulls you into the conversation, breaking the fourth wall. It’s a good back-and-forth between humor and seriousness and a vulnerable confession that we, the audience, are invited to listen into.

The main character tells of his trip to Florence with his son as they search for a book about the Renaissance’s first painter, Masaccio. Florence is a good setting. It’s not the cliché Paris or some idyllic village in rural England. Florence is a city of history and beauty. It’s the birthplace of the Renaissance man and the self-made man.

Amidst the troubling setting of a failing marriage, the main character’s teen son, Bryce, offers a unique comedic relief. He is portrayed through Thomas’ perspective as the main character—as each of the other characters is.

For instance, the main character recalls that while on the plane headed to Florence, he and his son watch two… well-endowed…women walk through the aisle. The main character jokingly says, “Thank God for yoga pants.”

Bryce quips back, “I think they’re called leggings now, Dad.”

A few chuckles from the audience ensue.

As this leggings joke may infer, there’s a mild sexual dissatisfaction in the main character as he and his wife, Audrey, face troubles in their marriage.

There’s another moment when the main character describes coming up behind his wife to kiss her. But she stiffens and refuses.

This leads to the main character becoming interested in a tour guide he meets in Florence. Her name is Katarina and she is the antithesis of Audrey as she is seemingly carefree and willing to talk about anything.

Though divorce and dissatisfaction in marriage are all too common in our society today and therefore warrant commentary, this part of Portrait makes me wonder if the plot line is too crowded for what it is.

This is a one-act, one-man play—a “character study,” as Thomas describes it—so the focus should be on the main character, our history teacher.

Audrey is presented as this breadwinner wife who’s tired and possibly unfaithful.

But why?

Audrey’s character needs to be explored more. However, it can’t because the focus of the play is a man becoming reawakened to life.

The great question to life is purpose. I think the play would have had more flavor if the main character was facing a mid-life crisis, but didn’t know why, adding a je ne sais quoi quality to it.  For instance, his life at home is seemingly perfect, yet he is unhappy. This complex issue could narrow the characters and plot down to just focus on our main character and the spiritual level of the man.

This I felt was  touched upon briefly in the play when the main character recalls getting caught in a rain storm alongside Katarina, who, of course, embraces the rain. It served as a sort of baptism of reawakening and a turning point. 

But this idea that “I have an unhappy marriage at home but it can be solved by seeing another ideal woman” is an overused trope.  Katarina’s character, though hopeful and interesting, makes the play have a Hallmark-Movie quality to it.

Still, there’s a certain satisfaction the audience receives from the end. We know the main character now has filled up the pages in his journal of life and that he has been reawakened.

I will add that to have this much to unpack from a 50-minute play is very impressive and should be fully credited to its playwright Thomas. 

Whether you like each of the characters and their purpose or not, Thomas showcases a brief moment in a man’s life where decisions weigh heavily upon his shoulders—something we can all relate to.

And the message of living your best life can never be emphasized enough. To pave your own path and to write your own story. This encouragement can only be attributed to the complex inspiration that comes from Thomas’ play Portrait of a Young Man.

Another one of Thomas’ plays, “This House is Not a Home,” will also be performed Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Walnut House Event Venue in Murfreesboro with another viewing on Saturday, Aug. 19, at Oaklands Mansion. Tickets for the August performances are available at mltarts.com and the Murfreesboro Little Theatre Facebook page.