Good Boys at ACT Theatre
Also see David's review of I'm Flying! The Mary Martin Story
Directed with purpose and brisk pacing by Jon Jory, and performed by a largely excellent cast, Good Boys takes place as a park bench encounter, seemingly coincidental but ultimately arranged, between James Erskine, a white used car salesman, and Thomas Thurman, an African American preacher. In a cinematic style, we see how the men's past intertwined as James' alienated, outsider son Ethan unravels to such a point that he shoots and kills Thomas' popular, football player son Marcus as well as several other students, before turning the gun on himself. James' own accountability in the tragedy (he had previously found and destroyed a homemade pipe bomb found in Ethan's room) and Thomas' absent-father status (serving time for a crime he didn't commit) are factors in the men's face-off, as well the emotional baggage carried by the deep psychological wounds visited on Marcus' worshipful younger brother Corin. The Thurmans want James to come and talk to their church parish back in New Mexico, where the tragedy took place, which leads to a final charged encounter between James and young Corin.
Jeffrey Hayenga has the most difficult role in the show as James Erskine, and neither the actor nor director Jory have found a way to make this angry, broken character remotely likable; for the play to be weighted equally, he needs to be. However, the rest of the cast carves out exceptionally adroit characterizations, from Thomas Jefferson Byrd's preacher Thomas, who starts on a slow simmer and builds slowly and surely to an emotional boil, to Michael Scott's vivid, highly theatrical yet affecting turn as wild child Ethan. Best and truest of all is Adam Western's utterly naturalistic and poignant portrayal of Corin. Martin's script is often chilly, but Western's acting is the warm, beating heart of this production.
Carey Wong's scenic design is detailed and attractive, Greg Sullivan's lighting design is on target, and Marcia Dixcy Jory's costumes all convey the very different tastes and backgrounds of the play's five characters. Good Boys is a good production of a script that simply isn't as affecting as it really ought to be, but its actors ensure that you come away with something meaningful in the course of the performance.
Good Boys runs through September 30, 2004 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St, in downtown Seattle. For further information, visit www.acttheatre.org.