OnStage New York Critic
In To Be Or Not To Be, Mel Brooks famously says: “Without gays, Jews and gypsies there’d be no Theatre.” The playwright Dan Fingerman has obviously taken this to heart and his homage to all three is wonderful. Right now, playing in TheaterLab – located at West 36th Street – is Boys of a Certain Age. I was invited to watch it and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a night of theatre in New York City.
Ira (played by R. Scott Williams) invites his nephew Chris (Brian Gligor) to his house after a bad breakup for the weekend. Shortly after, Larry (Joseph J. Menino)– an old flame and friend – and his son (Bryan) come to visit for the weekend as well. The whole cast of characters are gay, Jewish and spend the weekend arguing or discussing the current political climate and dealing with past and present hardships while trying to look towards a hopefully brighter future.
A good show is nothing without a great script. It’s the foundation of any performance and Playwright Dan Fingerman has done an exquisite job crafting an interesting and engaging world for the actors to play in. A majority of the play takes place in Ira’s home and the rest takes place in the area around it. The small area compliments the performance space itself and there is never a moment where you are left questioning what’s going on.
Of course no script is perfect and Boys of a Certain Age is not the exception. The story sometimes veers wildly off-course and seems to have trouble landing on a solid subject to discuss during the first half. After roughly the mid-way point (there is no intermission) however, the importance on LGBT community history and its current fears comes to the forefront and the play becomes undeniably absorbing. With only four characters it’s very easy to sympathize and relate to them and the way they are written is largely very grounded. That being said, the younger characters (Chris and Bryan) tend towards more ‘idealizations’. Bryan in particular is a personification of annoying, angsty activist stereotypes, while Chris presents a wildly opposite caricature of the more conservative ‘normal’. However these characters are still written remarkably well and they make you actually get emotionally attached to their arguments.
The jokes in the script are also hilarious and very clever. The script is clearly a product of the political upheaval in the past year but instead of presenting a black-and-white condemnation it’s a very real morally grey stance from most of the characters. Ira, the gay uncle, is written gorgeously and has several moments of breath-taking drama looking back at the AIDS epidemic and the gay rights movements of the past. Overall the script has very few flaws and is definitely crafted with love.
The actors in Boys of a Certain Age take their roles and run with them. In fact immediately after watching the performance that’s all I personally wanted to rave about. These guys are amazing in each of their roles. Each actor has a unique personality and you lose yourself in the stories they get to tell.
However I would be remiss to resist the opportunity to rave about R. Scott Williams’ performance as Ira. He steals the entire show. He’s witty, charming, a little bitchy at times, genuinely concerned about the ones he loves, and my god that character is tough as nails when he really needs to be. In fact that last one is a huge part of his character’s arc. He survived all of these horrific parts of the fight for equality and you can see this. There are a few moments where Ira is forced to discuss something that has happened in the past or that’s happening right now and the actor handles it with such nuance, showing off a mix of banter, serious concern and genuine fear. Every time he’s on the stage you can’t help but adore him and sympathize.
The drawback to this is that the other characters come up ever-so-slightly lacking. They’re wonderfully human, but the two younger roles in particular come off sometimes as personified ideas rather than real. Ira and Larry both are the most interesting parts of the show and I almost want to see a two-person show just between the two. Again, they all act their faces off but the two older characters and their actors are just glowing.
THE SET AND SPACE
The set itself for Boys of a Certain Age is very engaging. The choice was made to make a vasy majority of it movable. Several sets of railing were moved back and forth to convey different locations. It’s very minimalistic but brilliantly done. Fences on either far side of the space, placed right over some floor lights, also creates a very nice shadow effect that adds to the feel of the space. All in all there is not much to say about the scenic or light design – which to me is great. It does not hinder the actors and only adds to the experience. Very well done.
Boys of a Certain Age is a remarkably well crafted show. As of right now there are fourteen performances left at TheatreLab and I personally highly recommend it. If you enjoy very human characters with a great story arc then this is for you. If you can’t stomach any political discussions or aren’t interested in learning more about LGBT history then this won’t be for you. This humble theatre nerd, however, urges you to go see it if you can!