The Boy in the Bathroom
nytheatre.com review by Dianna Tucker Baritot
September 20, 2007
There's nothing misleading about the title, The Boy in the Bathroom. It's about a boy. In a bathroom. In this new musical (book and lyrics by Michael Lluberes; music and additional lyrics by Joe Maloney), the protagonist, David, is a 25-year-old college dropout suffering from a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who has spent the past year writing his thesis on rolls of toilet paper from the confining security of his mother's commode. It is not until a neighbor, Julie, takes a temporary position as housemaid for his mother, Pam, that David begins to truly explore the possibility of opening the door to the outside world.
Michael Zahler is aptly cast as the awkward, pasty-faced anxious man-child trapped in a world of fear. He sings his music deftly and easily, and his nervous physicality provides a tangible sense of tension as his character attempts to transition from victimization to empowerment.
Ana Nogueira delivers a spot-on performance and is refreshingly real as the girl next door with a chip on her shoulder. Her comforting ease onstage is one of experienced professionalism, which wouldn't come as any surprise unless you were to read the program and discover that this is actually her New York debut.
Mary Stout's performance as Pam is exactly what one expects from a Broadway veteran: phenomenal. She steals the stage with comedic bravado then takes the breath away with a chillingly raw depiction of a tortured enabler suffering from a fractured hip and a broken heart. It takes a true professional to raise goosebumps with a song. It takes Mary Stout to do it while limping and devouring a pink-frosted birthday cake.
Seth Easter's immobile set and Carrie Wood's dynamic lighting facilitate and enhance the seamless flow of the musical. The nonstop progression of the play moves smoothly and sneaks its way out of lighthearted comedy and into introspective allegory. It's easy to wonder whose self-inflicted prison Mother Pam is referring to when she sings "...Stuck with a schmuck in this muck of a life" and says "we've been living this way for a long time, now." David tries to reassure the audience that "this is not a metaphor, this is real," but the empty door frame to the bathroom bespeaks the opposite. "There is nothing to keep you here," Pam tells Julie. The same is true for David. The same is true for Pam. The same is true for anyone who's afraid to extricate themselves from their own safe haven, no matter how confining it may be.
Maloney and Lluberes have collaborated on and created a funny, beautiful, solid piece of theatre. The music is contemporary, but draws enough classical and neo-classical influence to lend a sense of timelessness to its composition. Much of it is through-composed (you probably won't hear many of Maloney's chestnuts at your local piano bar) but several songs ("Walking on the Moon," for example) could easily find their way into a singer's audition book. The lyrics and book are frequently witty, but Lluberes resists over-salting the script with too much cleverness, choosing instead to gently weaken the audience's defenses with humor before delving into the deeper issues he raises.
The production I attended was sold out, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rest of its run follows suit. The Boy in the Bathroom is a perfect example of a great modern musical, and I expect it will have a long life after NYMF.