GOOD BOYS AND TRUE
Good Boys and True starts out like Doubt but ends like bad Ibsen. In between, this new American play has its moments and offers some meaty material for a very good cast.
The play is mostly about class in the United States, focusing on a prep school for rich boys near Washington, DC in 1988, and the American upper-middle-class obsession with getting into “a good college.” It also decides to take on issues of gender, and that’s where I think it gets into trouble. By the end it’s a didactic stew of guilt and confession, revelation and confrontation, and a structural mess.
St. Joseph’s football coach Russell (Greg Bishop) has found a videotape in the locker room; on it, an indistinct boy who looks a lot like team captain Brandon (Alex Coulombe) is having rough sex with a teenage girl. Coach tells this to Brandon’s physician mother Elizabeth (Teryl Rothery), who confronts Brandon, who denies it’s him. We learn that Brandon’s father (whom we never meet—he’s out of the country) was himself a famous St. Joe’s boy in the same class as Russell was. Elizabeth discusses the situation with her militant sister Maddy (Tara Fynn), a public school teacher. Quickly, the existence of the tape becomes widely known. Whodunnit? What are they going to do about it? By the end of the first act we find out.
The second act unearths many revelations about the past: of the coach, Brandon’s father and Elizabeth herself. The adults’ own school years come under examination. We also meet the working class girl from the tape, Cheryl (Claire Robertson). And a first act subplot thickens significantly: Brandon’s best friend Justin (Taylor Bishop) is homosexual, and has been giving blowjobs to Brandon, who vehemently denies that he’s gay. Every character gets a big dramatic moment and the play fractures into many stories with many morals. This is a script that needed a strong dramaturge and another draft.
As Brandon, Coulombe has a shaky start, forced to address the audience with a bad monologue, but he improves as he goes along. He’s believable as a slightly screwed up rich teenager. Taylor Bishop does even better as his friend Justin, but their relationship never seemed quite credible to me. Rothery is a terrific actor but the script makes her operate at an emotional level in the first act which just doesn’t seem real for a mother confronting the son who may have ruined his own and another’s life. In the second act her character’s emotional responses and the situation seem more in sync and Rothery gets to show real range and depth. Fynn and Robertson do very good work in smaller parts. Greg Bishop seemed a little uncomfortable in the coach’s role on opening night.
Like the script, Jeff Hyslop’s promising direction loses its way in the second act. By insisting on having unnecessary set changes between each of the many short scenes, and not covering them with the snappy period music he uses in act one, he slows the play’s momentum and underlines its fragmented nature. I would really have liked to see these actors have a go at a morally complex but much less fussy story in a more fluid, dynamic form.