Boys’ Life @ Second Stage Theatre, New York

cast list
Jason Biggs
Rhys Coiro
and Peter Scanavino
Dan Colman
Michelle Federer
Betty Gilpin
Paloma Guzman
Stephanie March

directed by
Michael Greif
Howard Korder’s 1988 Boys’ Life, here receiving its first major New York revival, never quite takes off as a play.

Boys’ Life follows three “guys”, boys who are on the cusp of becoming men, making the journey without a guide book, rudderless.

The play is a reflection on how hard it is to grow up without having set, traditional roles thrust upon you. How do you define yourself as an adult male in a complex world? It’s a fasciinating question, it’s just too bad it’s left unanswered.

Jason Biggs (still best known for the American Pie films), plays Phil, a lost young man trying to define himself via a relationship – almost any relationship. He comes off, quite correctly, as needy and immature, and is very good in a rather thankless role.

Entourage‘s Rhys Coiro plays Jack, a married man with a wandering eye and an angry demeanor, who has determined that being married doesn’t mean he has to grow up. Coiro is magnetic as this constant bad influence; he is that friend that every adult has to denounce at some point.

The final member of the trio is Don, played by Peter Scanavino. In theory, Don should have the greatest emotional journey, but instead his character, as written, wanders reactively from situation to situation. In each of his big scenes, it seems that the true action occurs after the scene has ended. Complications are introduced, partially discussed and then the scene is over, with the audience denied any resolution. Then a new scene is up and running and we are left to infer what happened. Scanavino does a capable enough job with the role, but there isn’t much for him to do as this spineless semi-loser of a man.

Of the supporting cast, both Betty Gilpin, as Lisa, and Michelle Federer, as Karen, are fantastic. Which makes it all the more frustrating that their influence on the men and their inclusion in the play is so slight.

The main problem with Korder’s play is one of pacing: it’s very bitty and any time a scene starts to connect with the audience, the play zooms on to the next scene. Some rather overwhelming modular sets, designed by Max Wendland, also fail to add anything to the production. These are made up of three large – very large, the size of mobile homes – pieces, that are wheeled around by the cast in a complex and ultimately meaningless dance Of these, only one is used more than once, so the others don’t add very much except visual clutter. Other scenes take place with only hints of surroundings, a park bench or half a wedding reception table – and there seems no real reason behind these different methods of staging things.

At the end of the play nothing seems to have been learned or changed by the main characters. Despite a major life event occurring (off stage), nothing really has altered in any of these guys’ lives. They are no better or worse or even different than they were when we first met them. Granted, Michael Greif’s production is frequently enjoyable, but it is ultimately unfulfilling, depicting as it does a lack of life lessons learnt.

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