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Off Broadway Reviews

Square Go

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 14, 2019

Daniel Portman and Gavin Jon Wright
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Max is in the bathroom, though he is not at a party. He is at his high school. He's been holed up in the loo all day, hiding from the school bully and trying to choose between fight and flight in Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair's funny and perceptive play Square Go, opening tonight as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters.

The smartest thing the Scottish playwriting team has done is to make Max (Daniel Portman; "Game of Thrones" fans might recognize him from his long-standing role as Podrick Payne) and his best bud Stevie (Gavin Jon Wright) fall into the youngest age range of high schoolers. The beefy Max is 14, and the scrawny strawberry lace-chewing Stevie is a little younger.

At that juncture in life, that slight difference in age matters a great deal. It matters, certainly, when it comes to such significant conversation topics as the number of pubic hairs one has, or who can drink beer out of a glass "like he actually enjoys it." If you've ever been the parent or the teacher of young teens, or if you can remember your own sojourn through that time of life, you will recognize that the writing and the performances and the directing (by Finn Den Hertog) perfectly capture in Max and Stevie the crazy social and emotional upheaval characteristic of that typically hellish phase of growing up.

The premise of Square Go is that Max has inadvertently insulted the apish Danny Guthrie, the King Kong of bullies. Although Danny does not put in an actual appearance, his presence is continually felt. We can hear him roaring in the background via the original soundtrack by members of the indie rock group Frightened Rabbit, and occasionally Mr. Wright dons a lucha libre mask to represent him in Max's imagination. In the wake of the unintended slight, Danny has turned his Sauron-like eye toward the hitherto invisible Max, and has challenged him to a "square go," basically an after-school brawl. Max, with his philosophic and frequently malapropic pal by his side, has been trying to psych himself up for the fight in imitation of his battle heroes and what he has come to believe it means to man up.

Over the course of the 60-minute production, the audience is called upon to cheer loudly for our hero and is even made complicit in some peer pressure group ridicule. You may even be invited to engage in a round of arm wrestling if you are up to volunteering. It's generally very funny stuff, though, of course, the boys take it all very seriously.

As you get to know more about Max's background and home life, the laughs make way for a deeper understanding about what makes him tick. The same is even true of Danny, who has issues of his own, though, as Stevie wisely if colorfully puts it: "Every dick has got a reason they're a dick, doesnae change the fact that they're a fucking dick. Every day, you and me and other boys like us walk into school terrified, like we cannae step out of line, because of bastards like him." Unless you are one of the rare fortunate ones who skated unscathed through the early teenage years, you'll know exactly what Stevie means and what he and Max are dealing with as they come to grips with one of the more challenging aspects of becoming a man in the only world they know.

Square Go
Through June 30
Theater C at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule:

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