Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: Bad Set, It's True

In a time where rape culture sadly seems more present than ever comes a new production of Robert Aguirre-Sacasa's timely Good Boys and True. Presented by Retro Productions, the play tells the story of a boys' prep school where a sex tape circulates that features one of their own.
Directed by DeLisa M. White, Good Boys and True follows Brandon Hardy, a child of good wealth and fortune, and his mother Elizabeth who battle accusations and truths when a sex tape surfaces revealing a teen, resembling Brandon, raping a girl. Set in 1988, this story still rings true. The references and methods of circulation may be dated, yet the discussion is anything but. The text by rising scribe Aguirre-Sacasa is one of his finest. But this production is sadly missing that spark. And it's easy to pinpoint why. The vision from White includes much stillness causing a slow moving story to be presented. And that can be blamed on the scenic design. Designed by Jack and Rebecca Cunningham, White had little to work with. With the confines of locale, there's no wiggle room for the actors, forcing the staging to be quite stationary. The three tiered set allowed the shifts to be sharply motivated by actor and lights but with about three feet to work with, you could see the cast look stuck. To White's credit, her staging included a very consistent vocabulary. Even when the scene was on the stage floor, White kept the action tight. The other issue with the scenic design was the placement of the structure. The tiered playing space is so far from the first row of audience, let alone the rest of the bleachers, that there is an automatic disconnect. Perhaps the placement could be due to where the lights had to be hung but that shouldn't compromise the audience experience. With the Cunninghams creating a sharp angle with their set, the ratio of positive to negative space was a bit drastic, especially since the majority of the action took place on that structure. There’s no denying the creativity that went into Jack and Rebecca’s design. It looked stunning. But it was one of those circumstances that a scenic design altered an entire production.
Photo by Kyle Connolly
The company that comprised Good Boys and True were quite mixed. And it just so happened two of the supporting actors were the strongest of the bunch. Stephan Amenta as Justin and Moira Stone as Aunt Maddy gave admirable performances. Amenta gave Justin profundity and charm. As the outcast of the school, you could see why Brandon was magnetized by him. But beyond that, Amenta didn’t play into any stereotypes. He made Justin authentic. Stone as Maddy offered a lightness to the stark darkness of Heather E. Cunningham’s Elizabeth. Stone was bubbly in her attempts to ease the tension. Her contrast was much needed. Heather E. Cunningham as Elizabeth looked uncomfortable onstage. Between her Girl Scout tan dress designed by Kathryn Squitieri to the drama her character endured, Cunningham lacked the driving force to propel this play. Cunningham played Elizabeth like an afternoon special from the 80s. Her delivery was filled with melodrama, which garnered laughs during all the wrong moments. As Brandon, Ryan Pater exudes confidence as the spoiled privileged boy but his arrogance forces the audience to turn on him right from the start. Additionally, he plays Brandon a tad more mature than he may be.
For a play that dives deep into the richness of character, Good Boys and True seemed to spoil the mystery that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script naturally contains. It’s likely you picked a conclusion mere moments into the play. This is an important story but Retro Productions didn’t seem to do justice for it. Perhaps with a little reimagining of the set, Good Boys and True could have succeeded.