The Boy in the Basement
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 10, 2008
Katharine Heller cleverly satirizes romance novels in The Boy in the Basement, a stage adaptation of a book she wrote doing the same thing. The story is, naturally, light in substance, often predictable, and—truth be told—a lot of fun. The success lies in a couple of Heller's decisions: first, to use a male narrator ghost-writing as a female author, who is writing the story as we see it enacted; and second, to choose Nell Balaban as director.
The story is simple. A handsome young man, Lance, breaks into a house to steal what he can and is caught by the four college roommates who live there: Xandra, a Venezuelan dominatrix; Aurora, a new-wave hippy seeking heightened happiness; Clarissa, a confident co-ed who rarely says no; and Anna, a naïve virgin, who dreams of having a boyfriend. They all have their eyes on Lance. They decide not to call the police, but rather keep him tied up in the basement as their sex slave. Only Anna thinks he's there as a man servant to help with occasional chores. The story unfolds as Lance brings out something unexpected in each of them.
Nick Fondulis shows great range as the ghost writer, Catherine DuCheval. Off to the side, writing at a small table with a quill pen, he announces each scene as a chapter. Fondulis, with excellent timing and vocal variety, is alternately pensive, suggestive, energized, and physically passionate as he unfolds his plot. The actors colorfully demonstrate the script. Heller gives her Venezuelan a domineering sexuality; Anna Stumpf contrasts with a lighter-than-air Aurora; Lynne Rosenberg shows Clarissa as impatient and unforgiving, and demonstrates surprising vulnerability when she needs it; and Meghan Powe lays on enough naiveté to guarantee the audience knows The Boy in the Basement is a spoof. Tom Macy gives the play-toy Lance the substance he needs; and Michael Solis doubles as Randy and Felipe, two minor characters that add some back story.
But it is Nell Balaban, the director, who raises the performance a notch or two above silly satire. She pushes the pace to compensate for some of the predictability, uses movie still techniques in the sex scenes to humorous effect, and inserts sound effects that are both unexpected and funny. Sean Tribble's movable pillars turn a simple set into interesting choreography; Grant Yeager employs effective lighting throughout, but memorably a red flash during a ravishing scene. Jon Quinn's original music heightens the romance genre.
While the audience waits a bit for the actors to tie up the ends at the close, The Boy in the Basement is a pleasing FringeNYC selection.