In the play -- first seen last year in a distinctly different version at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre -- a homemade pornographic tape has been discovered at St. Joseph's Preparatory School for Boys that was clearly created without the consent of the teenage girl depicted within it. Coach Shea (Lee Tergesen) thinks that the boy in the hidden camera video -- whose face is not clearly visible -- is his football team's captain, Brandon (Brian J. Smith), and so calls in Brandon's mother Elizabeth (J. Smith-Cameron) to handle the matter quietly.
Brandon denies that he was the one on the tape, but is he telling the truth? Even Justin (Christopher Abbott) -- whose friendship with Brandon encompasses the occasional homosexual act -- has his doubts. As the scandal inevitably breaks out into the open, it forces several of the play's primary characters to confront difficult truths about themselves, the people they love, and their own complicity in creating a culture in which the degradation of another human being is not only possible, but encouraged.
Aguirre-Sacasa's prior works include thrillers such as The Mystery Plays and Dark Matters, and the playwright has constructed Good Boys with a similar attention to plot twists and disclosures of long-held secrets. Sadly, that writing strategy doesn't work as well in the context of a more traditionally structured realistic narrative; it tends to make the play come off more like a soap opera than serious dramatic fare.
The production is blessed to have Smith-Cameron as the anguished mother -- a busy surgeon -- who has to do some serious soul-searching to account for both her son's conduct and her own. Smith, on the other hand, plays his part too much on the surface. He's something of a cipher, and never lets the audience see beyond the façade that Brandon presents to the outside world, even though the writing hints that the character is seeking to cover up some deep-seated doubts and fears.
Abbott has an engaging presence, but unfortunately neither play nor actor makes credible a crucial action that Justin performs that threatens to destroy everything he might hope to gain. Kellie Overbey does a good turn as Maddy, who serves as a foil for sister Elizabeth, showing how two women who share the same social and economic background can make very different choices about how they live their lives. Tergesen doesn't have much to work with as the coach, and is saddled with the most awkwardly introduced revelation, which involves Brandon's father during the pair's own school days at St. Joe's. Finally, Betty Gilpin makes a brief but memorable appearance as Cheryl, the girl on the videotape, who presents a compelling combination of vulnerability and defiance.
Derek McLane's set is dominated by rows and rows of trophies that underscore the drive to win that informs Brandon's world. But the underlying message behind the play is that such a mentality ignores what happens to the so-called "losers" who are deemed inconsequential.
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