URBANA — It's not easy playing an unsavory character. Just ask Maxwell Tomaszewski, who has the role of Brandon Hardy in "Good Boys and True," opening tonight at the Station Theatre.
The student at an elite boys' prep school in or near Washington, D.C., is accused of a brutal sex act, recorded on videotape. His mother must determine if he's guilty; the scandal threatens his Ivy League-bound future.
Tomaszewski had a hard time at first approaching the role of Brandon.
"It took me a lot of time, juggling and looking at it from all angles, deciding how I would be comfortable with it," he said before a rehearsal on Monday night.
Finally, he found ways to connect with the lead character by not agreeing with but empathizing with Brandon's situation.
Thom Schnarre, who directs, said "Good Boys and True," written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, deals with a typical American family "awash in the affluent and privileged culture of the late 1980s."
After the videotape surfaces, Brandon's mother is forced to wake up from her complacency to try to sort fact from fiction, Schnarre said.
The play opened in 2007 at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and in '08 in New York City. While Chicago critics gave it warm reviews, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times found the play "standard-issue" and dated.
Schnarre, an English instructor at Parkland College, believes critics who wrote negative reviews did so in part because "Good Boys and True" deals with issues of gender and sexual orientation and is critical of the way we live.
Schnarre, who had suggested the play to the Celebration Company board of directors, "fell in love with it" after he read the script. He believes that "Good Boys and True" at heart deals with how "our sons treat our daughters, and the way we as a country deal with people who are different."
Schnarre also believes the play should not have been marketed as a drama but rather as a mystery because of its many twists and turns — and the numerous layers that must be uncovered to get at the truth.
Actress Chris Taber, who plays Brandon's mother, said she doesn't believe the play is dated at all. With Facebook, YouTube and other social media so popular with youths today, the play is even more relevant, she said.
"I don't think it's dated in its message," said Taber, who's the drama director at Franklin Middle School in Champaign. "I think something like this could happen much more easily today."
Also, as a mother she relates to her character, Elizabeth Hardy.
"I see a little of me in her because I am a mother — I have two kids in junior high — and I want to protect them," she said.
At the same time, Taber sees the faults in Elizabeth Hardy and "prays to God" she doesn't have any of them.
The play is set in 1988. The Station's version features one set, designed by Chris Guyote, with a "Lost Boys" poster taking center stage in an area representing Brandon's male friend's bedroom.
Another side of the set stands in as the Hardy living room, and the other side switches from being a coach's office to a food court in a shopping mall.
Cast members, of course, wear '80s costumes. Incidental taped music will be by the Eurythmics, Duran Duran and other acts from that day.
"Nostalgia buffs should dig on it," Schnarre said.
He estimates the running time of the two-act play at 1 hour, 45 minutes, including intermission.
If you go
What: The Celebration Company presents "Good Boys and True" by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, directed by Thom Schnarre, with Maxwell Tomaszewski and Chris Taber in the lead roles
When: 8 p.m. today through Feb. 8 (shows each week Wednesday through Sunday)
Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway Ave., U
Tickets: $10 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $15, Fridays and Saturdays
Reservations: 384-4000, stationtheatre.com