nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 30, 2008
Counting Squares Theatre is a brand new troupe, founded by three graduates of the University of Central Florida, Joshua Gold, Dena Kology, and Ryan Nicholoff. Their first show, Bent, was well-reviewed by nytheatre.com; for their second piece, they have again chosen a smart and complex play that showcases their individual and collective strengths. This is definitely a company to watch.
Boys' Life, by Howard Korder, was written 20 years ago and tells the story of three young men struggling against their arrested development and thwarted life expectations. Jack is married with a young child, but still stays out late with his old high school/college buddies and tries to pick up women in the park; his extreme disappointment with his life is masked (or mirrored) by his acerbic humor and his ever-shortening fuse of a temper. Don, trying to be serious in his profession, is nonetheless mired in a world of meaningless one-night stands; Jack, noting at one point that Don always seems to be in his underwear, asks whether he owns any pants. Phil is a less defined character, but he likewise is stuck in a rut of self-destructive sex and drinking that he seems to want to get out of—how badly he wants out, though, is not quite clear. The play is a series of vignettes, taken from a year or so in these boys' lives, as we watch them interact with each other and with various women they are involved with. It's often darkly comic, and unexpectedly revealing in its exploration of these overgrown adolescents (my companion compared the play's protagonist, Jack, to Willy Loman).
The play provides great opportunities for this cast who—though all perhaps a few years younger than the characters they portray—mostly excel in making these people three dimensional and believable. Nicholoff embraces all of the contradictions of Jack's personality, at once punchy, funny, and mean—his lack of self-awareness, despite all the bitter irony he puts out into the world, helps us understand how lost a soul this man already has become. Nicholoff has a big and compelling stage presence that helps keep Jack the focal point throughout the play; he's definitely an actor to keep an eye on.
Aaron Kirkpatrick is terrific as Don, imbuing the character with an earnestness that belies the callowness of many of his actions; he makes him into someone to root for. Ed Davis is less successful as Phil, but I think that's because this role is underwritten compared to the others. Among the women, Kology (who also is the show's director) does a good job as Maggie, a smart and self-assured jogger whom Jack tries to pick up in the park; Abigail Flynn is effective as Lisa, Don's most enduring girlfriend; and Kendra Holton has a fine cameo as Jack's otherwise absent wife, Carla.
Kology's tight, smart direction keeps us focused on the characters. Transitions between the scenes are effectively managed, with very evocative music sustaining the mood masterfully (sound design is by James Cleveland). The simple unit set by Gold, and costumes and lighting by Claire Magruder and Jessica Burgess, respectively, all contribute successfully to the play's environment and ambience.
I've not seen Boys' Life before, so this revival offered me a look not only at a strong emerging indie theatre company but also a chance to discover a significant work from the contemporary canon. Korder's sharply written play is seen to good advantage here; Counting Squares Theatre has chosen well and put together a very effective and entertaining production.