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Good Boys & True

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3581

SHOWING : January 14, 2010 - February 13, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

It’s the 1980’s and the boys at St. Joe’s Prep School are clean-cut, well-bred and Ivy League bound. And having a lot of sex. Until a scandal involving one little video tape threatens to grow beyond closed-door whispers to engulf the entire school, peeling back the ugly underpinnings of an elite machine. As one mother struggles to glean fact from fiction, she finds herself face to face with truths about her perfect son and their privileged existence. From the one of the writers of the HBO hit “Big Love.”


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Melissa Foulger
Prop Master Melisa Dubois
Costume Designer Eric Griffis
Lighing and Sound Designer Joseph P. Monaghan III
Scenic Designer Jon Nooner
Coach Russell Shea Rial Ellsworth
Brandon Hardy Louis Gregory
Cheryl Moody Ashleigh Hoppe
Elizabeth Hardy Tess Malis Kincaid
Maddy Emerson Stacy Melich
Justin Simmons Brent Rose
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REVIEWS

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Those Who Matter
by Dedalus
Friday, February 19, 2010
4.0
It is the mark of a true sociopath that he (or she) considers some (or all) people beneath contempt, who bully and victimize based on the simple “truth” that “they” just don’t matter. Those of us with a working class background often see the “privileged class” as especially susceptible to this attitude. Indeed, Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Good Boys and True” shows us such a sociopath, a prep school “golden boy” who uses people as if they were toys. There’s an irony attached to this, which I’ll discuss later.

Brandon Hardy is just seventeen, the child of privilege, attending St. Joseph’s Prep School near Washington DC, just as his father did before him. When his is fingered as the central figure in a shabby sex tape, his mother, Elizabeth, must face the grim reality that he is a product of her parenting, that St. Joseph’s is a cauldron of simmering sin and resentment, and that privilege itself can raise a sociopath’s expectations to unreasonable levels.

The play is constructed as a series of encounters, in locker rooms, in offices, in mall cafeterias, in parks. Rarely are there more than two people on stage. As the play continues, the charming Brandon of the outset is gradually revealed to be a selfish monster, a cocky brat who feels no affection for anyone beyond what he has to gain. For reasons I won’t go into here, he picks up young Cheryl Moody at a local mall (“She doesn’t matter. She’s not one of us.”), seduces her, and, without her knowledge, videotapes their encounter. The tape “somehow” becomes public knowledge around the school, and Brandon’s future goes up in smoke. Since, in Brandon’s eyes, this covers up an even worse indiscretion (one filled with its own lockerful of cold betrayal and calculation), he can find no reason to regret or feel sorry for his actions.

As Act Two continues, the encounters become more and more intense, revealing more and more about Brandon, about his parents, about his coach, about his school, about his victim. It all comes to a head in an intense and breath-taking scene between mother and son, a scene in which Elizabeth finally takes responsibility for what her son has become, even as Brandon refuses to acknowledge the harm he has left in his wake. And it all ends with whimsical flashback, a scene in which Brandon sets the whole thing in motion with a rare moment of honest connection.

This is a terrific, well-written play. Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa has fashioned a script with six sharply etched characters, with dialogue that sings as it strikes lethal venom into any hearts unfortunate enough to be listening. Flashbacks deepen the story as reminiscences give it a multi-generational import. I found it moving and funny, while at once appalling in its implications.

The performances are all wonderful, filled with passion and conviction. Tess Malis Kincaid and Louis Gregory are terrific as mother and son, loyal to a fault, even when that fault is each other. I totally believed they carried an off-stage history that made subtext come alive. Newcomer Ashleigh Hoppe was also impressive as Cheryl Moody. In two scenes she builds a character carrying numerous of layers of innocence, betrayal, anger, affection, and guilt. Rial Ellsworth, Stacy Melich, and Brent Rose give their usual fine support.

If I would question anything about this production, it would be the decision to include muddy and distracting projections to set the various scenes. Jon Nooner has designed a brilliant set – a stained faux marble look complete with columns to nicely establish the “ivory tower” ethos of St. Josephs. It is completely marred, though, by the projections, most of which take a moment or two to make sense, too many of which change in mid-scene. It’s as if the designers didn’t trust our imagination to set the various scenes, but felt compelled to hide the set and actors behind a sense of faux realism, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron. I found the whole concept needlessly distracting.

Still and all, and in spite of that, the actors cut through any distractions, and left me with a compelling story peopled by real and flawed people doing things that make sense to them, if not to us.

Remember when I talked about the irony inherent in the subject here? What I mean by that is our apparent readiness to dismiss the “privileged” class as by definition sociopathic. Isn’t this our own brush with sociopathy, our own willingness to think that these kids “really don’t matter?’ Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa nicely alleviates this irony by making Elizabeth (and her sister, played by Ms. Melich) members of this same class, and imbues them with enough integrity and class, that Brandon’s own lack of the same seems more apparent.

So, in a nutshell, this is a play that matters, performed by actors who matter, produced by a theatre that matters. And, to my way of thinking, that’s really all that matters.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)






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Good theatre, for sure
by uppermiddlebrow
Sunday, February 7, 2010
4.5
Since I agree with the salient points of Playgoer's review, I'll avoid redundancy here and just underscore a couple of his findings. Tess Malis Kincaid is mesmerizing as the conscience-stricken upper-crust mother and Stacey Melich brings comic relief as her sexy, straight-talking younger sister. The set is so bad that someone like me, who rarely notices the visuals, found it distracting in scenes where actors were hidden behind gauze projection screens.

On the night I saw the play, the central character was played by the understudy, Barrett Doyle. Bravo, sir! He was superb, perfectly capturing the solipsism of the prep-school golden boy.

I have a slight beef with the play's cliched view of elite prep school norms and values that translates into somewhat cardboard roles for the students and coach. The women all have much more running room. It could be that real-life St Joes - Westminster in Atlanta - are governed by a cut-throat and self-seeking culture. I suspect that's an overblown diagnosis and that more nuance would have made the play more interesting. And while the central character's refusal to come clean with his mother makes the play's essential point (I'm not going to ruin it for you - go see for yourself) that silence does not make for a satisfying dramatic arc.

Yet these are minor reservations. Actors Express has staged another in its string of intelligent new works brought pleasingly to Atlanta.

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Fraught with Terrific Acting
by playgoer
Sunday, January 24, 2010
4.5
"Good Boys &True" is a strong drama, powerfully acted. Tess Malis Kincaid masterfully plays Dr. Elizabeth Hardy, mother of prep school senior Brandon Hardy (played by Louis Gregory). Brandon is a privileged youth who takes his privilege for granted, with unpleasant results. Louis Gregory portrays this arrogant youth with superficial charm, nicely modulating into a younger, squeakier freshman voice for the final flashback scene. Tess Malis Kincaid uses her acting chops to full advantage in her role, with every gesture and word projecting truthfulness. It's a powerhouse performance.

The other ladies in the cast also turn in splendid performances. Stacy Melich plays Elizabeth Hardy's sister, Maddy. There's a scene in act one where the two sisters talk, overlapping lines and thoughts in the rhythm of two sisters with lifelong connections. It's funny and smart and engaging. In act two, Elizabeth Hardy visits high school student Cheryl Moody at a food court to discuss a matter of mutual concern. The reactions of Ashleigh Hoppe, as Cheryl, are beautifully gauged to underscore the differences between her working class life and the "easy" life of the Hardys. It's a subtle, wonderfully nuanced performance. Both Stacy Melich and Ashleigh Hoppe also have spot-on scenes involving Louis Gregory as Brandon.

Two other male actors add to the proceedings. Brent Rose plays Justin Simmons, a somewhat swishy classmate of Brandon's. He somehow makes the audience share in Brandon's mingled emotions of affection and contempt toward him. Rial Ellsworth competently plays Coach Russell Shea, who happens to be a schoolboy friend of Brandon's father, with a complicated relationship to the Hardy family. They both give fine performances, but it's the females that make the most impact.

A collection of performances as mesmerizing as those seen in "Good Boys & True" doesn't just occur by happenstance. Director Melissa Foulger has molded the overall production to allow these acting moments to shine individually, yet mesh into a cohesive whole. It's a wonderfully crafted directorial effort. It's with sincere admiration that I praise her work.

I can't praise the set design, however. Jon Nooner has devised a collection of terraced platforms and fabric panels, with a couple of columns thrown in. Aside from the fabric panels, the set and furnishings are painted in faux stone. The sameness lends a drabness to the proceedings, and some of the platforms are cramped for the actors.

Worse than the set, though, are the projections used at times, presumably to give a sense of location. Bafflingly, these location projections tend to shift subtly to other images during a scene. It's distracting and rarely pleasant to look at. The set has so many vertical surfaces, none as reflective as a projection screen, that there's a washed-out, disjointed quality to the images. Otherwise, the lighting is okay, although there's no apparent indication of the flashback quality of a couple of scenes. The storytelling would be aided more by pointing out these flashbacks than by showing projections to underline pretty obvious scene changes.

The storytelling could also benefit from stronger curtain lines. At the performance I attended, the audience couldn't tell that an act had ended until a delayed rise of the house lights occurred, too late to reward the actors with spontaneous applause. And reward them we should! "Good Boys & True" showcases a satisfying complexity of acting performances. This show is well worth a visit, adding to an Atlanta theatrical season blessed so far with a number of intriguing, serious newer works. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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