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|A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
What if the world just goes on like this forever?
--Howard Korder, Boys' Life
Howard Korder's 1988 male heterosexual coming-of-age play is presented in a 10th Anniversary production that asks us to consider whether the world has changed notably in the decade since it appeared with much fanfare at Lincoln Center and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. At that time, the Village Voice called Korder "a presence to take seriously" and The New Yorker deemed the play "the most balanced and intelligent comment on the battle of the sexes seen in a long time".
Boys' Life concerns itself with the cynical lives of three twenty-somethings. At that age, "lives" and "sex lives" are virtually synonymous. Most of their waking hours are spent either on the prowl or rationalizing and justifying their quest, its successes and failings. Boys' Life plays out in a series of scenes in which Jack (Jason Kaufman), Don (Victor F. A. Lirio) and Phil (Dan Schachner) follow different trajectories through the minefield of post-adolescent development. Jack, the least grown up, is married with a child, but has eyes that still wander; Don, apparently the most mature, finds someone to love even though he must prove it to himself by comparison; and Phil is, well, still looking. For all its superficiality, it undoubtedly resonates for some, like Lirio, the young producer-star of this production who says (in the playbill) that he "instantly related to the characters and how they are simultaneously attempting and refusing to grow up".
Has anything changed in ten years? In terms of the male sex drive, probably not. The combination of frustration and anticipation, at once fueled and tempered by alcohol and marijuana, continues to ring true and, if nothing else, produces the kind of recognitional laughs that cause many people to say, as Mr. Lirio does, "that's me". In that sense, it bears a strong kinship to its musical neighbor, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.
In terms of how we view the play itself, however, a great deal has changed. The seemingly unedited and peppered with satire male banter was perceived as a significant progression from Mamet. What seemed like fresh, candid insight a decade ago, however, seems more like mild situation comedy today. In hindsight, it pales by comparison with its logical antecedent, Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
If there is a context in which this play can remain invigorating, this production did not find it. The direction is remarkably lacking in style, never providing a tone or tempo on which the play can become engaging. Sets, costumes and accompanying music similarly fail to conjure up any sort of nostalgia one might have for the Eighties. There is also no striking impression of a fresh look.
The cast is uneven, and never really finds a consistent voice for Korder's words. Still, it has its high points. Dan Schachner rises to the surface as a very talented, dry comedian who we can only hope we will have the opportunity to see again. He seems capable of creating something that is interesting and that we care about, qualities that elude the production as a whole. Of the more briefly seen women, several are also quite capable: most notably, Katy Medders as Don's girlfriend/wife, Lisa, and Natasha Marco as his freakish pick-up.
The reexamination of well-received plays after the passage of time is a fruitful, even important, exercise. Here is one that engendered excitement that has either dissipated or at least has not been fully translated into a compelling piece of theater. Ah, the eighties; oh, well.