By Amanda Sulker-Hall
“Good Boys,” written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Carolyn Cantor, is set at center stage at the Pasadena Playhouse until July 21. When first reading the story of “Good Boys” you begin to come up with your own preconceived ideas of the revival of Aguirre-Sacasa’s 15 year-old play. Nothing comes close to describing the brilliant and vibrant performances given by this cast of seasoned and up-and-coming storytellers.
The assumed lead Brandon (Ben Ahlers) who is charming, the star quarterback, and the well-off son of a Saint Joseph alumnus has his eyes set on Dartmouth. With his witty, gay best friend Justin Simmons (Dylan Arnold) by his side, who creates the much needed comic relief in the play, the future’s looking bright. Although Saint Joe’s is highly sought after, its glimmering marble and ivy covered buildings have a reputation for housing the shallow, privileged, and self-destructive. It’s 1988 and this prestigious prep school has had rumors of a sex tape rapidly swarming the halls. When Brandon’s mother, Elizabeth Hardy (Betsy Brandt), is called into school by Coach Russell (James Carpinello) she is wildly surprised to find that the boy in the sex tape may very well be her own son who has filmed the act without the girl’s consent. Forced to watch the tape, Elizabeth is conflicted on how to approach her son with what she knows.
Ahlers and Brandt give honest and painfully beautiful performance of this mother and son that must stare down reality. When Brandon finally comes clean to his mother about the tape Ahlers portrays an unempathetic Brandon. As his mother begins radeling off questions about the girl in the video we begin to see how much this character’s privilege blinds him as he retorts, “She doesn’t matter.” For, in Brandon’s eyes she is just a random girl from a lower class who served her purpose and has no value compared to him and his social standing. Brandt does a seamless job of showing the love Elizabeth has for her son but also displays the shame she feels for Brandon’s vehemence that he shouldn’t be punished or vilified in the media for his actions. Alhers captures Brandon’s ability to turn a blind eye to the destruction he has caused in their life and the life of the victim, Cheryl Moody (Brett Cooper), who is faced with comments from her peers shaming her for her sexual activities. With every nervous tick or crafted stance each actor has developed these characters to grab hold of your attention from beginning to end.
With many moving parts Dane Laffrey, a well renowned scenic designer, has created vibrant backdrops that guides the story and frames each character from scene to scene: whether it is in the poised halls of Saint Joe’s that always seem to be dark and unforgiving or in the mall where neon lights guide the audience’s eyes to center stage, or the ceiling lights that break the focus from the other backdrops and put a spotlight on our characters. The efforts to keep you entranced in this story do not go unnoticed. I particularly enjoyed the school bell that rang periodically throughout the play, beckoning audiences back to their seats after intermission to once again be consumed by this play.
It is a thrilling story that masterfully unfolds before your eyes exploring a mother’s struggle with her own faults, a son’s discovery of self, the romanticization of toxic masculinity, and the brutal truths of how we allow boys to behave in today’s cultural climate. Through Brandon we see in his need to prove his own hyper-masculinity as he also deals with repressed sexuality and internalized homophobia born out of fear and his ever present misogyny. The play is at an intersection between toxic masculinity and economic privilege. It’s the same themes we saw when news of Brett Kavanaugh’s school, Georgetown Prep, were put in the spotlight during his hearing.
This provoking story will keep you on the edge of your seat and engrossed in this world with every ring of the school bell. I recommend anyone and everyone take the time to digest this piece that covers themes many would shy away from.
“Good Boys” will be running their last three shows this weekend from July 18 to July 21. If you still haven’t bought your ticket yet you can order them online through pasadenaplayhouse.org or you can call to purchase tickets and pick them up at the door. Every show starts at 8 p.m. so make sure your in your seats so you don’t miss a beat.