Thursday, October 23, 2008

Men Will Be Boys

Boys’ Life
Written by Howard Korder
Directed by Michael Greif
Starring Jason Biggs, Rhys Coiro, Dan Colman, Michelle Federer, Betty Gilpin, Paloma Guzman, Laura-Leigh, Stephanie March, Peter Scanavino

Performances from October 2 to November 9, 2008
Second Stage Theatre
307 West 43rd Street

Coiro, March and Biggs in Boys' Life (photo: Joan Marcus)
Howard Korder’s Boys’ Life follows a trio of buddies–Phil, Jack, and Don–who, after college, finally are dropped into the real, adult world for which they are woefully unprepared. Wearily cynical Jack is married with a young son, which doesn’t stop him from pursuing other available women; nerdy Don meets and falls in love with headstrong waitress Lisa, yet finds himself in bed with a suicidal young woman; and practical, straightlaced Phil cannot, no matter what he does, find the right woman.

Korder has written Boys’ Life as a series of disconnected scenes that feature the men solo and together, usually with one of several peripheral women. Since his characters are underwritten caricatures, Korder’s strategy has the unwanted effect of giving us brief clips from a longer, more pungent comic drama that he has not provided. For 90 minutes, these mostly unappealing 20-somethings flail around, proving their irresponsibility and immaturity despite the realization that they are adults with no fall-back position now that school is over. Too bad that Korder simply presents such behavior without insight–witness his play’s facilely ironic title.

Korder can write zingers–whenever two or three of our heroes are onstage, their dialogue is full of them–but the warmed-over Mametian approach palls quickly. The play’s finale, where the trio reunites at Don’s wedding, is also its best-written scene: too bad that the preceding hour and a half wasn’t more illuminating, which would have made these final moments–where certain futures are anything but assured for these three–far more affecting than they are.

Michael Greif’s direction accentuates the play’s fragmented nature, to its detriment. Each blackout scene is followed by several cast members and stagehands rolling one set away and putting another in its place. As this occurs, ‘70s and ‘80s rock music (Talking Heads, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Motley Crue, etc.) blares over loudspeakers, a conceit used to much better effect by Neil LaBute for another dissection of similar characters, The Shape of Things.

None of the actors fashions a whole character out of the disjointed material. Jason Biggs’ Phil comes off as most likable (even after his horrible secret is spilled), Rhys Coiro adds irritating mannerisms to the already obnoxious Jack, and Peter Scanavino plays Don as a vaguely sympathetic fool. Of the quintet of engaging actresses playing the various women, only Paloma Guzman (as Jack’s wife Carla) enlivens her standard-issue role.

Ultimately, Boys’ Life–despite numerous accolades, including losing the 1988 Pulitzer Prize to Driving Miss Daisy–never coheres into an eloquent statement on these boys’ lives.

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