University of Memphis sophomore Brad Karel admits he lost interest in theater upon graduating from high school.
When he did an internship in Disneyworld’s entertainment department after backing out of studying aviation, he said that the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of people “rekindled the fire in my heart” for theater.
“After the internship, I applied for the U of M and was instantly accepted,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been here, it’s been a great experience for me. I’m blessed to be getting so many roles.”
In the November 7 premiere of Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up, Karel, who plays the role of Eddie Ryan, said there are some similarities between himself and the play’s protagonist.
“Eddie’s a very shy guy,” he explained. “He didn’t do a whole lot or succeed when he was a kid, and he reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger. I was also one of those kids that didn’t do a lot while in school; everything I did do was outside of the school environment, at my church and with my family and whatnot.”
And when it comes to school in general, Karel said that he “never really clicked with it” until his sophomore year in high school, which is a sentiment that can be found in Eddie’s inability to make friends until the moment he begins high school.
Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up is originally the second book in a trilogy written by the late John Powers in 1975, chronicling his Catholic upbringing from childhood to adulthood. The main storyline revolves around Eddie and seven of his friends as they navigate the various obstacles young people face, such as falling in and out of love for the first time, sex education, and trying to find acceptance amongst their peers, all within the boundaries of their Catholic private school in the 1950s.
In her February 2013 obituary for the Sun Times, staff reporter Maureen O’Donnell wrote that the “black patent leather shoes” title was a reference to a warning to young Catholic girls from their nuns, reminding them that the reflective patent leather of their shoes had an effect on the teenage male’s libido.
When asked about the relationship between the obstacles Eddie and his friends face and what modern-day college students endure, third-year graduate student and director Randall Stevens said that the plotline is something anyone can relate to—regardless of socioeconomic statuses or demographics.
“Everybody relates to the issues of just growing up,” he said. “I think now that we’re in college, we can look back on the things we did as children and realize that now you have some perspective in life.”
Older and younger audience members can also benefit from seeing the play, Karel said.
“For older audience members, I hope this play will allow them to get in touch with memories from their past,” he said. “As for younger audience members, it’s an entertaining show, and the cast and crew are amazing.”
Bob Feldheim, correspondent for Compass Magazine, the arts and entertainment publication for the St. Augustine Record, mirrored Stevens’ sentiment about the play in his June 2013 review.
“Suddenly, the realization: These ‘kids’ who we’ve watched flower into young adults are—have always been—young adults,” Feldheim wrote in reference to the children’s mental and emotional maturing.
As far as people of diverse religious backgrounds are concerned, Stevens believes people will enjoy Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up, no matter what religion they practice.
“Now, if you did grow up Catholic, there will be some things that will seem familiar to you, especially if you grew up Catholic in the 1950s,” he said.