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Boys' Life

A cast of energetic actors can't disguise the deficiencies in Howard Korder's 1988 play about three former college roommates who can't grow up. logo
Jason Biggs, Rhys Coiro, and Peter Scanavino
in Boys' Life
(© Joan Marcus)
The rumbling you hear at Second Stage Theatre is partially caused by the emphatic acting emanating from Michael Greif's unnecessary revival of Howard Korder's 1988 play, Boys' Life, which for ironic purposes borrows its title from the Boy Scouts of America's monthly magazine.

The rest of the noise rising beneath you is attributable to designer Mark Wendland's set pieces -- looking like gaudy trailers carnival folks might inhabit -- that roll around the stage between scenes, perhaps in a possible attempt to cover up the deficiencies of the text. Widely acclaimed when it first appeared -- and even short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize -- this 90-minute study of three former college roommates' uneasy journey into adulthood now comes off as little more than a newer playwright trying to out-Mamet Mamet.

In a series of quick, slang-talky scenes, the chronically depressed Phil (Jason Biggs), pot-reliant Don (Peter Scanavino), and relentlessly arch and ultimately self-loathing Jack (Rhys Coiro) -- all of whom have failed to mature in the years following their entry into an adult world for which they seem to have no aptitude -- wrestle verbally and physically with both each other and a series of diffident girl-women (played by Michele Federer, Stephanie March, Laura-Leigh, and Paloma Guzman, all on the money).

The only woman who shows any understanding of what the attributes of maturity look like is waitress/sculptress Lisa (the excellent Betty Gilpin), who can't walk out on the object of her developing affection -- Don -- even when she's sized him up for what he is. Ultimately, though, Lisa is just one of the characters unable to exit long after people in real life would have hit the dusty road -- because if they did leave, there would be no play. Or there might be a better play, because Korder would have had to acknowledge that some boys do come to their adult senses and finally leave their extended boyhood -- and their laggard friends -- behind. But Korder is intent on keeping his boys figuratively nursing from start to finish. (And, yes, there's lots of eager talk about female breasts.)

To their credit, Greif and his energetic cast attempt to supply what the play doesn't establish convincingly. Biggs has made a specialty of this sort of nervous overgrown kid and introduces him again; the always marvelous Scanavino is a properly hyperkinetic Don; and Coiro's Jack is an indelible portrait of a thoroughly unlikable cad. The problem is that Korder mistakenly thinks their lives are worth looking at -- and possibly learning from.

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