“Good Boys and True”
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sunday. Through Feb. 13. $25-$30. Actor’s Express, 887 W. Marietta St. N.W. (King Plow Arts Center). 404-607-7469, actorsexpress.com.
Bottom line: Despite a few missteps, a compelling drama.
By Bert Osborne
“Good Boys and True” is equal parts chilling character study about a pathological prep-school student embroiled in a sex-tape scandal and hand-wringing melodrama about how his mother comes to grips with it.
In either regard, under the sound direction of Melissa Foulger, the new Actor’s Express production is never less than intriguing — and not much more.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s titillating plot points certainly grab and hold our attention, and the two central characters are smart and well-spoken.
The deeper the play digs beneath their “glorified culture,” however, the more it reveals some of the flaws in Foulger’s staging.
Brandon Hardy (Louis Gregory) is a kid who seems to have it all going for him: He’s from an affluent Georgetown family and popular with all the other boys at the exclusive St. Joseph’s Academy. But things begin to unravel after he’s implicated in a videotape showing an obscured St. Joseph’s student forcing sex on a public school girl.
Is it simply a case of mistaken identity, or might Brandon have orchestrated the horrific scheme himself? That’s what his mother, Elizabeth (Tess Malis Kincaid), struggles to find out.
Gregory, whose previous Express credits include “Some Men” and “Finn in the Underworld,” can be a somewhat lifeless stage presence, so the slick charm he brings to Brandon is initially ingratiating, if not ultimately very insinuating. The actor effectively maintains the character’s surface superficiality, but as events and motivations materialize, the sinister undercurrents don’t always register in his work.
In a way, just the opposite is true of Kincaid. She’s anything but a lifeless presence onstage — to wit, last summer’s “Titus Andronicus” — and her scenes here are played with fierce conviction. Where Gregory fails to fully follow through with his role, the drawback to Kincaid’s performance is in the set-up.
Revelations come to light in the second act involving a defining moment from Elizabeth’s own high school days, and her suspicions about Brandon’s relationship with another boy. But it’s as though they develop out of thin air.
The supporting cast features Brent Rose as that other boy, Stacy Melich as Elizabeth’s wise-cracking sister, Rial Ellsworth as Brandon’s coach, and newcomer Ashleigh Hoppe, who’s excellent as the exploited girl.
Foulger’s stylistic flair is always a plus, especially when she’s working with problematic text (“Suddenly Last Summer,” “Far Away”).
On more solid (that is, realistic) ground with “Good Boys and True,” she uses slide projections against the faux-marble walls and sheer-fabric columns of Jon Nooner’s scenery to establish the play’s various settings. It’s a nice touch — despite one bizarrely blocked scene that takes place behind one of those screens.
How ironic, in such a potent drama about the difference between what we see and what we can only imagine.