Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Burning Coal Theatre Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

Also see Garrett's recent review of Radio

Katie Milligan and Dani Coan
Photo by Kevin Lord
Burning Coal Theatre Company's second production for its "Wait 'Til You See This" Second Stage Series is a premiere by playwright Dani Coan called Ex-Boyfriends. The play fits well into this series that is designed to bring various professionals and organizations together to present new plays and up and coming artists. Ex-Boyfriends is one of four plays that will be presented in rotation through June 23 at the Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh.

A native North Carolinian, Dani Coan makes her debut as a playwright with Ex-Boyfriends. The play is one of a series of pieces that she has created to focus on personal identity and how relationships affect one's concept of self. Ms. Coan states that this play "centers around the idea of turning memories into objects and old lovers into puppets, focusing on themes of therapy, identity and objectification." Ms. Coan wears several hats in this production. She is not only the playwright but a co-producer and scenic designer as well as lead actress. She plays the role of Maya, a young woman who delves into the depths of her mind with help from her therapist, Jo (Katie Milligan). Maya unpacks relationships with various ex-boyfriends as they double for her own inner struggles with self, including a personal struggle with anorexia nervosa (a disorder that Ms. Coan has shared publicly that she has had to personally contend with).

Each scene is introduced with a title, like a chapter in a book. The first ex we are introduced to is Adam (an exuberant Jacob Berger), who tries to pressure Maya into practicing his strong religious beliefs. Next is Bryce (Jarred Pearce), whose preoccupation with his own physical appearance seems to overshadow any personal feelings he may have for his girlfriend. Damon, number three (portrayed with much conviction by Jaye Bullock), is the catalyst that seems to exacerbate an already growing problem of anorexia that Maya develops. Lastly, we have Charlie (a convincingly authentic Nat M. Sherwood), who seems the most understanding and nurturing of them all, but still not able to meet the expectations set forth by Maya.

This production is helmed by two directors, Barbette Hunter and Amelia Lumpkin. The scenic design (shared among three: Ms. Coan, Akili Holder-Cozart, and Melanie Payne) is colorful and eclectic.

Whether it is the writing or the direction, the play seems off kilter at times. It seems unsure if it wants to lean into the seriousness of what Maya is dealing with or be more comedic in scenes of absurdity that are presented throughout. As a first act closer, the ex-boyfriends manifest themselves in an imaginary place within Maya's mind as puppets that she can have control over. In doing so, she attempts to bring enlightenment to them about their personal flaws in contributing to the failure of their relationships. This scene culminates in a mind-bending trip of personified phalluses that break out into a musical number accompanied by Jo. One of the more realistic scenes features Maya and boyfriend Charlie. But when Ex-boyfriend Damon shows back up in the picture, the rest of the act seems to drag. It culminates in a long and unneeded re-telling of Maya's journey through the telling of a fairy-tale in which we already know the outcome.

Ms. Coan has what it takes to be an effective playwright as well as actress. There are some profound moments of pure poetry in her writing. There are also moments that are not as clear as one may wish. The topic of anorexia is a tough one for anyone to tackle but, in addressing, the play does not give a clear picture of what its effect truly is. With the silliness trimmed from its core, the play has strong moments.

As already noted, Ex-Boyfriends brings up eating disorders. There is also a content advisory for strong language, emotional abuse, and depictions of genitalia.

Ex-Boyfriends, presented by the Burning Coal Theatre Company, runs through June 23, 2024, in the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh NC. For tickets and information, please visit or call 919-834-4001.

Playwright: Dani Coan
Directors: Barbette Hunter and Amelia Lumpkin
Set Design: Dani Coan, Akili Holder-Cozart, and Melanie Payne
Costume Design: Aerial Sanders and Barbette Hunter
Sound Design: Juan Isler

Adam: Jacob Berger
Damon: Jaye Bullock
Maya: Dani Coan
Jo: Katie Milligan
Bryce: Jarred Pearce
Charlie: Nat M. Sherwood Photo By: Kevin Lord / Pictured: Katie Milligan and Dani Coan