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Boys' Life

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Life, the old saying goes, is what happens while you're waiting for something else. The new production of Howard Korder's Boys' Life deals with that issue head-on. While the issue itself spans the ages, Korder's treatment is slightly less than timeless.

Nominated for the 1988 Pulitzer Prize, Boys' Life follows three men as they pursue life and love after graduating from college. Phil (Andrew J. Hoff) jumps from one meaningless relationship to another, Jack (Leo Lauer) married early, but likes to keep his options open, and Don (Jeremy Koch) is entering what could be a very long-lasting relationship.

While the mens' relationships with women are of significant importance, their relationships with each other gain more focus still. And it is in that way that Boys' Life fails to deliver. The play mostly unfolds as a series of vignettes with no smooth-flowing narrative, leaving the transitions between the scenes with more than a few jagged edges. Because of this, it is difficult to get a grasp on what is really driving the men, and what their relationships are with each other; none is clearly defined.

It is difficult to tell, though, if the problems that exist lie with the script or the performers. Lauer, in particular, has difficulty fleshing out his character fully. But, as Korder has designed Jack as the most resistant to change and the least mature of the lot, there's not always a lot for Lauer to work with. Phil has more established depth that Hoff never completely brings out, but Koch is probably the most successful of the men at creating a truly believable person from the script which never seems to make it easy.

The show's best performance comes from Jeslyn Kelly, as Lisa, Don's waitress/sculptor girlfriend. She is very grounded and very real, and makes a strong case for Don's attraction to her. Her scenes with Koch are the strongest in the play. Teresa Goding, Kristina Nilles, and Alli Steinberg portray other women in the mens' lives, but Korder seldom gives them more than just a few minutes onstage, so it is difficult for them to impact the play much.

Director Drew Decorlato does his best with that, and the rest of the script's problems, keeping them all strongly in check, and allowing the action to move at a swift pace. His only weak choice seems to be to not more fully embrace the time period in which the play was written. This robs the script of some of its potential impact - references to the 1970s or the possibility of a nuclear holocaust cannot be easily removed from the script without making more brittle its already fragile structure. Though the show's striking design (provided by John Wiese) seems to want to convince us the show is taking place in the present day, it never really feels like it.

With more definition to most of the characters, both the men and the women, Boys' Life might be more relevant. As it stands, some men in their late 20s might find much to relate to; the struggles of Phil, Jack, and Don are very much those people must face when entering the real world. Korder's work, however, seems to lack the universality needed to bring their world to yours if it's one you are not a part of.

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Broken Watch Productions, Inc.
Boys' Life
by Howard Korder
Through September 30
PC2
616 9th Avenue at 44th Street
Tickets: Smart Tix: (212) 206-1515