nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 23, 2008
"Everyone's worried about the world getting blown up but what if it doesn't? What if it goes on like this?" asserts Howard Korder in his soul-searching play, Boys' Life. Indeed, this seems to be the curse of my generation. Coming of age in the '80s, I was certain that we were headed toward a scorched-earth scenario and all the partying I was doing was merely a last bash before the bomb, but alas I'm still here and I had to find a way to move on. And that wasn't easy. Boys' Life deals with some of the difficulties of moving on and the changing attitudes that come with maturity, though it doesn't delve too deeply into them.
Set in 1988, the play's opening scene reveals a lot about the nature of its characters and its theme while simultaneously revealing what we're in store for in terms of acting. The three main characters, Phil, Jack, and Don (played by Jason Biggs, Rhys Coiro and Peter Scanavino respectively), are lazing about a cluttered room smoking weed and drinking beer while they fire off their lines like they have somewhere else to be. The actors, mostly Coiro and Scanavino in this scene, do not seem to be listening to each other and seem more concerned with getting laughs or keeping the space between lines to a minimum. As the play progresses this diminishes, but it never completely goes away.
Biggs is the most appealing actor of this bunch. He is charming in a bumbling, pathetic sort of way, and though that's what he does in everything I've seen him in, it does work for the character and for this play. Coiro has moments when he really finds his character. One such moment is in a scene with Maggie, played wonderfully by Stephanie March, in which he plants the seeds of a potential affair. However, through most of the play Coiro is disconnected from his character and that's disappointing because his is the main conflict in the play due to his resistance to change. Scanavino works his way into his character slowly and once he's there he really shines. His character undergoes the most change and he clearly knows this. In a scene in which he has just been caught cheating on his girlfriend Lisa (played explosively by Betty Gilpin), he nails his monologue, which is basically a made-up dream. He is attempting to save the relationship by appealing to her sensitive side and as he digs himself deeper and deeper into this fake dream he begins to believe his own bullshit. He promises her that he will change and he seems to mean it, but she asks him how he will change he cannot answer. And that is my underlying issue with Boys' Life.
Korder attempts to create a message about what it means to move from being a man-boy into full-blown manhood, but his boys are constantly fumbling for their feelings on the subject—if they can express them at all. They know it's time to change and they feel the changes happening within them but they can't just say it because that will somehow make it too real. The effect is that Korder never really says much about the nature of this transition except that it is difficult to acknowledge. Tensions and issues are finally starting to be addressed in the last scene, but then the play just ends rather abruptly and nothing is resolved. Boys' Life is funny here and there but for a comedy it is not notably funny.
Michael Greif's direction is certainly taut and his vision of a fast-paced and nameless big city is clear, but he seems to allow natural acting to be replaced by concerns for pace and timing. The set design (Mark Wendland) consists of large rolling boxes with the various sets within them like life-sized dioramas. A crew and the actors move these huge boxes around the stage in a dance that, while well-choreographed, appears to be clunky and unnecessary. However, I did enjoy the nostalgia of the '80s music (Fitz Patton) and costumes (Clint Ramos).
Boys' Life certainly captures the confusion that many young men feel as the pangs of mental and emotional growth hit them over the head but it left me feeling unsatisfied. The play meanders through mostly uneventful moments in its characters lives' and that makes them commonplace and forgettable.