Station show gives audience plenty to think about
By Audrey Wells
In "Good Boys and True" the latest offering by the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre, affluenza and male privilege meet homophobia and concoct a mix of self-loathing, deception and criminal behavior.
The charmingly cocky Brandon Hardy (Maxwell Tomaszewski) opens the play and establishes his persona as the quintessential alpha male of St. Joseph's Preparatory, an elite boarding school founded by Jesuits. Handsome, confident, captain of the football team, Dartmouth-bound, Brandon is the only child of two doctors. His father attended the same school.
"I am a demigod" he tells his closest friend, without much hint of irony.
Soon, however, as in a Greek tragedy, his self-deception peels away. A VHS tape of a humiliating sex act is circulating in the school, and Brandon turns out to have masterminded his own downfall.
Interestingly, in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's play, Brandon's mother, Elizabeth, (Chris Taber) shares the position of protagonist. With Brandon's father out of the country on a goodwill mission, she has to step forward when the trouble begins and then spirals. In the course of the play, she comes to question not just her illusions about her son but also her complicity in the malformation of his character.
Watching this mother parent her wayward teenaged son brought much depth to the play. As Aguirre-Sacasa contrasts their differences, he illuminates both the teenaged man and the adult woman's points of view.
Taber is excellent as the mother caught between protecting her son and holding him to moral standards. She reminded me in her delivery and movement of actress Allison Janney: thoughtful yet snappy.
As Brandon, Tomaszewski also does an excellent job balancing his character's complexities. His ability to behave as a fledgling adult is ambiguous at best even though he knows how to appear as one. His unraveling is tremendously sad.
While all of this drama has weight, some of the play, especially in the first act, has humor. Much of the lift comes from the buoyant performance of William Anthony Sebastian Rose II as Justin, Brandon's classmate, friend and secret lover. The play is set in 1988, and Justin and Brandon goof around like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business." Justin entertains Brandon. We can see how fond they are of each other. Rose's warmth in these scenes helps us feel the pathos later.
Also turning in able performances are Aaron Clark as Russell, the coach at the school and old family friend of the Hardy's; Martha A. Mills as Maddy Emerson, Elizabeth's younger sister who provides a moral compass; and Stefanie Senior as Cheryl Moody, a teen who was victimized by Brandon. Under the direction of Thom Schnarre the actors bring nuanced understanding to their characters and come through as three-dimensional.
The set design by Chris Guyotte leaves no doubt that we are in 1989. Laden with sports trophies and footballs draped with bras and panties, the busy set supports the theme, although I found the set perhaps a bit overdressed.
Some of the costuming confused me, too: Were pearls and tags left hanging on dresses all the rage in 1989? Chances are good they were and I blocked it out. The music of the 1980s permeates the air, which makes sense, but sometimes the sound worked against the dialog and was a minor distraction.
Overall, "Good Boys and True" grabs hold and gives the audience a lot to think about. If I were the parent of a mature teenager, I might want us to see this play together and talk about it afterward.
Audrey Wells is a freelance writer from Urbana.
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 on Fridays and Saturdays
Reservations: 384-4000, stationtheatre.com