At least no one will ever accuse The Boy in the Bathroom of not living up to its name. This entry by Michael Lluberes (book, lyrics, and direction) and Joe Maloney (music and additional lyrics) is the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s equivalent to Snakes on a Plane: You know what you’re getting upfront, and you’ll probably know whether you’ll like it or hate it before even stepping in the 45th Street Theatre.
The reason that the boy, named David and played by Michael Zahler, has locked himself in his home’s tile and porcelain palace is twofold. First, he can’t escape graduate school without finishing his thesis (he was aiming for a Masters in philosophy). But there’s also the more pressing matter of his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which has led him to be so frightened of other people and all the potential possibilities of the world that a year ago he just gave up and moved into the one room in his house where all of his needs could logically be met.
His enabler - sorry, mother - Pam (Mary Stout) thinks it’s best for him, since without such close confines he’d never be able to keep himself together. She’s not entirely thrilled with the matter, especially since she’s been raising David on his own since age seven (when his father walked out), but still manages to slip three meals a day underneath the door (he eats a lot of pancakes and tortillas) until the day she slips on some ice and breaks her hip. This leads her to engage the assistance of a young woman named Julie (Ana Nogueria) who, of course, becomes enamored of the invisible man behind the bathroom door and starts trying to coax him out of his shell.
The twinkling score strongly hints at the limitations of the piece: There aren’t many avenues for exploration other than complaints for all three about their situations, intentionally awkward pseudo-romantic ditties for the pseudo-dating David and Julie, and an occasional song, usually for Pam, who might not be the innocent victim she seems to be.
Stout, though, is great in her role: Her Broadway-caliber voice and comic chops help her effortlessly elicit every laugh from her crotchety-but-caring mother with a Psycho streak. Nogueira has got plenty of spunk and sex appeal, just right for her reluctant siren. Zahler finds every bit of David’s necessary nervous energy, but tends to overplay his character’s darker fits; his body is also so defined and fit, I found myself wondering where in the tiny bathroom (the excellent set is by Seth Easter) he managed to hide a full set of barbells.
But the real problems with The Boy in the Bathroom are that events can only unfold along one prescribed path, and opportunities for inventive staging and invigorating writing are all but flushed away at the outset. The story feels so small, it seems better suited to non-musical treatment, where characters can be developed in ways other than their predilection for “knock knock” jokes (which grows old quickly) and songs that restate things we’re able to figure out for ourselves. It also doesn’t aid your own assimilation of David, Julie, and Pam’s plight that the door separating them is only a frame they can obviously see through but never open or close.
Psychological details this small, even in a production and show as small as The Boy in the Bathroom, matter in big ways. Kudos, though, to Lluberes for playing an unexpectedly compelling mind game in the finale: He’s found about the only surprising variation possible on the only obvious ending. The curtain line he’s happened upon is so good that the other lapses into banality of this too-soggy saga can almost be excused.
Venue: 45th Street Theater, 354 West 45th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, 1st Floor.