Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Boys' Life


By Howard Korder. Dir. Michael Greif. Second Stage. (CLOSED)

This 20th-anniversary revival of Howard Korder's 1988 male-centered comedy of sexual manners was greeted by a few critics with respect, but most wondered whether, after countless LaBute plays, Entourage, etc., the play really merits another mounting. Credit went to director Michael Greif and the lead actors--including a graduate of the American Pie franchise--for pumping some life into the property, but most critics weren't quite sure it was worth the effort.

(Michael Kuchwara) Now 20 years old, the play...still resonates as a witty, acerbic and compact (90 minutes) examination of why men do what they do, particularly when it comes to sex and, God forbid, love. And what's even better, it's sermon-free, letting the audience make up its own mind about these guys without any heavy-handed moralizing. That "Boys' Life" retains its freshness, despite its 1980s references and hairstyles (check out the 'do on actor Jason Biggs), is a credit to its fine cast and the astute direction of Michael Greif.

NY Times B+
(Charles Isherwood) Spotty but enjoyable...In the early scenes the director, Michael Greif, and his likable actors fight too hard against the play's plaintive undertow, insisting on easy laughs and rattling through the dialogue as if to emphasize its resemblance to the comic shock-talk of David Mamet...But the staging matures almost by the minute, and when the actors begin consistently hitting the right notes, Mr. Korder's mosaic of youthful dissatisfaction achieves a jazzy sense of melancholy. The production ultimately succeeds in evoking the mood of aching, hopeful despair that the play memorializes effectively.

Back Stage B+
(David Sheward) Boys' Life...offers piercing portraits of adolescent males in adult bodies...Most productions would have settled for a theatrical version of a goofy stoner film, yet that brilliant director Michael Greif and his able cast find the grace notes of complexity in the raw sexual comedy...Greif's staging is energetic and inventive.

Bloomberg News B+
(John Simon) The structure is unusual -- unsettling but also appropriate. No customary arc follows a protagonist from point A to point B; instead, we get three characters staggering to heaven knows where, in a dramaturgy of calculated indeterminacy...Michael Greif has directed with greater resourcefulness and humor than usual in Mark Wendland's delightful, cartoonish sets, as risibly on casters as the characters' lives. There is letter- and-laughter-perfect acting from a true ensemble cast.

NY Post B
(Frank Scheck) A pungently witty and insightful portrait of arrested development, the comedy/drama revived last night lacks the depth to make it truly interesting...Ironically, it is the female characters who are the most three-dimensional figures...The play doesn't really add up to much more than the sum of its entertaining parts, including some acerbic dialogue and, under director Michael Greif, sharp performances.

Curtain Up B
(Elyse Sommer) Given the right cast and smart direction, Korder's often wickedly funny dialogue can still make for an entertaining 90 minutes...A trio of individually effective, well mated actors -- Jason Biggs, Rhys Coiro and Peter Scanavino -- headline...An equally strong group of actresses play the women who see through their frailties...The lively staging and performances of the current production notwithstanding, the satirical edge that gained Korder a reputation as a playwright to be watched has been blunted by time and the plethora of similar buddy stories.

Time Out B-
(David Cote) Three college buddies swap sex-war stories in this 1988 comedy-drama, which seemed naughty back then, but now comes across as cheap and not terribly profound. Men are pigs and they refuse to grow up. Got it. Still, Michael Greif's brash and slick staging gives off sparks, with an appealing young cast and designer Mark Wendland's series of large boxes on wheels.

Talkin Broadway B-
(Matthew Murray) On one level, as relevant as ever. But discerning that from the new production that Michael Greif has directed at Second Stage won't be easy...Jason Biggs, Rhys Coiro, and Peter Scanavino...[are] too wholesome, too clean-cut, to convince as natural cads forced into unnatural behavior only when faced with overwhelming odds...The women...also seem strangely ornamental here.

The Record B-
(Robert Feldberg) Under the savvy direction of Michael Greif, and with a lively and committed cast -- Coiro creates the most despicable creep seen in quite a while -- the 90-minute panorama of male narcissism is entertaining, if not terribly deep. It has a nice period flavor, with references to such cultural ephemera as "Kramer vs. Kramer" and Cajun food.

Daily News C+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Howard Korder's play was a Pulitzer finalist in 1988, before the term frenemies was popular and when its exploration of the way men talk to each other - about sex - may have seemed daringly unvarnished and even a little shocking. The surprise factor is gone, and the play feels like virtually any episode of any sitcom.There are a few chuckles, however, and the surefooted staging by Michael Greif gets a boost from the novel scenic design.

TheaterMania C-
(David Finkle) 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...To their credit, Greif and his energetic cast attempt to supply what the play doesn't establish convincingly.

Variety D+
(David Rooney) Men behaving badly and unrepentantly toward women and each other have been so thoroughly exposed in sitcoms, movies and the collected works of Neil LaBute that it's hard to imagine this actor-y exercise ever having had much sting. It's even harder to imagine what prompted Second Stage to consider honoring it with a 20th anniversary revival.

amNew York D+
(Matt Windman) A candid, occasionally engaging look at the misadventures of three former college buddies making their way in the big city...While Michael Greif's perfectly adequate production celebrates the plays 20th anniversary, its shock and awe effect has entirely worn off. At the moment, our culture is filled with far too many films and television shows about the adult male's prolonged state of emotional adolescence...Overall, "Boys' Life" is just not meaningful or memorable enough to be worth performing again.

Newsday D
(Linda Winer) One is left wondering, yet again, about the theater's fascination with grown men who - insert obligatory dirty word here - just don't wanna grow up...[The play] remains a remarkably shallow piece of second-generation David Mamet - full of staccato tough talk but sentimental concern for the fate of lost "boys" who lust after and loathe brittle neurotic women.

NJ Star-Ledger D
(Michael Sommers) Back in its original day -- before cell phones, the internet and Farrelly Brothers' movies -- Howard Korder's subtly scathing comedy was considered quite an eye-opening view of young guys behaving like pigs. So why is it so challenging to keep one's eyes open during Boys' Life at Second Stage Theatre? The revival that bowed there yesterday is populated by good actors and staged by Michael Greif...But darned if Boys' Life doesn't just lie there like a frat brother out cold after a keg party.

The Journal News D
(Jacques Le Sourd) By the end of the play I had the unaccustomed sensation that the play never really got started. Just don't ask me to sit through it again.

AP A- 12; NY Times B+ 11; Back Stage B+ 11; Bloomberg B+ 11; NY Post B 10; Curtain Up B 10; Time Out B- 9; Talkin Broadway B- 9; The Record B- 9; Daily News C+ 8; TheaterMania C- 6; Variety D+ 5; amNew York D+ 5; Newsday D 4; NJ Star-Ledger D 4; The Journal News D 4; TOTAL: 128 / 16 = 8 (C+)

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