Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: A Not So Fine Play

By Michael Block 

Love from a teen's perspective does not always quite line up with reality. Everything is bigger than it seems. So heartbreak can be the worst, literally. On the surface, All the Fine Boys, presented by The New Group, is a play about love. But Erica Schmidt's play dives deeper than teen love. It explores sexual awakening in the most stereotypical of ways. Hoping to be an evocative coming of age, All the Fine Boys is simply redundant.
Drenched in 80s nostalgia, All the Fine Boys plays like a cautionary tale. Best friends Jenny and Emily are hungry to grow up. Middle school is banal. They want the perks of high school. Mostly just the boys. As Emily crushes on high school senior Adam, Jenny has her eyes on an older man from church. Splitting into dual, competing narratives and timelines, All the Fine Boys follows the drastically different relationships with twists and turns that can be seen a mile away. Even with some plot holes, All the Fine Boys is a choppy play that needed guidance. There are cliches a-plenty. Upon learning of the nature of Jenny and Joseph's dangerous affair, it's evident where it was going. Jenny even comments on it. Schmidt has set up Joseph to be a monster simply due to his actions. As sweet as he was played through his gestures, Joseph should never have preyed on Jenny. The text contradicted itself when it came to Joseph's intentions. Similarly, Adam, as suave as he is, emotionally manipulates Emily. Only she is able to accept it, still though with a crushed heart, when the time comes. It's clear Schmidt is trying to write something substantial but it feels that the moral of the story is men are bad. In an attempt to be edgy, the text is blatantly self-fulfilling. There are consequences for impulses yet none of the characters seemed to understand that. Moral compasses were completely shattered. Schmidt's period piece was rooted in realism. There's only so much believability one can have in theater before the imagination is stretched. It's clear that there was a large age gap between the characters but introducing the specificities of age, namely Joe's, shattered the illusion. It may have been stronger to never reveal his age. Story aside, Schmidt does have a way with dialogue. The back and forth in both pairs is quick and sharp. Schmidt’s best writing is showcased in the Emily and Adam scenes. It’s an endearing coupling that captures two kids trying to be adults.
photo by Monique Carboni
The content and themes are difficult to tap into. Especially in an intimate theater. But this quartet, namely the ladies, did an admirable job. As Jenny, Abigail Breslin tapped into the complexities of the character. Jenny just wants to be loved. Breslin allowed Jenny's demeanor to be honest as she fell hard. Joe Tippett made Joseph as sincere as he possibly could. There was tenderness to his care of Jenny. By far, the strongest performance came from Isabelle Fuhrman. As Emily, Fuhrman captured the genuine innocence of the girl with the teen crush. Opposite her as Adam, Alex Wolff brought an effortlessly sly charm. Part bad boy, part geek, Wolff's Adam was crush worthy. As a pair their dynamic was riveting.
Taking on the dual roles of playwright and director, Erica Schmidt wasn't able to delineate the two. And it shows in the writing. Having a talented cast bolstered the script despite its flaws. As disturbing as the scenes turned, the predictable nature of the story lacked nuance. The most interesting element of the direction may have been the way Schmidt consistently allowed the worlds to flow seamlessly into one another. She infused a danger into the world that came to fruition toward the end. The singular set from Amy Rubin featured furniture straight from the decade as well as plush blue carpeting lining the floor and walls.
All the Fine Boys is a thematically interesting play that doesn't offer anything new. The production is saved by the cast but that can only go so far.