All the Fine Boys: And One Fine Girl
I wonder if seeing the musical, Kid Victory set me up in some way for the tense outcome of this sexualized drama currently being produced by The New Group. All the Fine Boys, a new play by Erica Schmidt, starts out charmingly enough but where it wants to lead us is a bit more troubling than the innocent beginning suggests. Two young teenage girls are having a sleepover; gossiping, playing truth or dare, and about to watch numerous cheesy slasher films. The horror movie titles set my brain a-tingling. Are we being given a hint as to what horror is approaching? This is when Kid Victory‘s abduction story line first popped into my head, and I wondered, are we in for something similar? Or even more graphic? Or am I being paranoid?
Just like every teenage slasher movie, the action starts in the basement of young pretty Jenny’s home, (a very fast talking Abigail Breslin) chattering on and on about boys, boys, and more about boys in that quick staccato way young girls speak. Emily, (a sweet natured Isabelle Fuhrman) gives off a slightly more nervous approach to her age, or is it insecurity with a dash of quiet desperation. It’s unclear but she seems to be the more sympathetic character of the two. She is new to the town, and we instantly see her as the one we can attach some love and care to. Jenny, although trying to exude a more world-weary demeanor to her small town boredom, seems the more reckless of the two. Her dream is to be seen as someone of importance. For what, she doesn’t seem to care, which surprises Emily. Jenny just desperately needs to be seen and loved, regardless of the reason.
This is a very telling descriptive difference between these two fourteen year olds. Together, they give off a feeling of unfocused energy in their speedy delivery of dialogue, typical of girls their age. It’s a compelling first scene, and leaves you curious about what is going to happen to these very different girls. At this point, not surprisingly, the stories veer off from one another, with a slightly off balance time sequence from the other. The unequal time frames reveal hints of what has happened before the have had the chance to play out with the other. It’s an interesting game, giving us foreboding clues, while suggesting that terrible things are coming. It definitely adds a much-needed layer of interest to a story that seems to take a long time to progress. The scenes shift back and forth, and as directed by the playwright, Schmidt, the off-sync overlapping narrative is clumsy without giving much advancement to the story. I would have liked to see what a different director would have done to the piece, as sometimes distance from the material breeds insight. The design is simple enough (scenic: Amy Rubin; costume: Tom Broecker; lighting: Jeff Croiter) but disconcerting and awkward in its actualization. Climbing over discarded props and clothes from the previous scenes that have no relevance in the moment is one complication, and having the two girls look at each other when talking on the phone is another. Both cause a disconnect in the believability and authenticity of the action. The momentum is erratic and disjointed, and over the course of this 100-minute play, so is our interest.
I’m not quite sure what the playwright/director is trying to tell us about teenage girls and the guys they set their sights on. The story follows the ever challenging and frightening dive these two girls make into sexual awakening and their thirst for womanhood. Both girls choose older, although we only vaguely understand why. Emily gushes over her high school crush, Adam (Alex Wolff), which seems more obvious and naively sweet. Jenny, the braver of the two (or some may say reckless) gets in the car with an older (late 20’s, just to be clear) guy, Joseph (Joe Tippett). Tippett (who was absolutely wonderful in PH’s Familiar) is definitely an appealing and handsome man; boyish while also being manly, and he brings the complicated soul to life here for the most part. But Breslin disappoints as her character is largely one note while also being annoying. Both choices find these girls way out of their safety zone, and there is definitely a feeling that something terrible is on its way. The path through sexual exploration in All the Fine Boys is not a place of safety or security for either of these two, but they both keep driving forward, oblivious to the warning signs on the road; one because of a young kind of love, the other for some kind of attention.
It is a bit disconcerting watching Breslin play the fast talking teenage girl, who is self-absorbed and a tad difficult. She is a hard nut to care about, as her energy and personality seem careless, selfish, and disconnected. There is a dullness to her sexuality that seems out of place to the character and the situation that she puts herself in. The attraction of these two, doesn’t ring entirely true and the awkwardness of the whole scenario doesn’t help. The outcome is clear, but the intention isn’t.
Emily’s descent into love and attraction seems a bit more realistic, while also being quite sad, as Alex Wolff’s Adam is an odd contradiction. His pretentious ideals that he preaches to Emily should be bathed in obliviousness and immature confidence, but he seems to be smiling and winking at her and us with the knowledge of how foolish he in fact sounds. It adds a level of humor to the whole scenario, but not authenticity. Emily buys into his worldly knowledge completely which makes her desire and pain believable, although only from her side. The last scene between these two feels like too broad of a flip for Adam, while Emily’s empowerment gives us at least some hope for one of these girls.
Little did I know, but the wearing of my Spring Awakening tee shirt was never more appropriate than that day. This story is all about the burning desire for love and attention from someone or anyone who can help these young girls along the road to actualizing womanhood. It seems to be one dangerous winding road. Emily’s plight is the most centered of the lot while Joseph’s uncontrollable desire and flaw seems believable and tragic. But the ones these two are paired with are either difficult to care for, or hard to believe in. It makes for some lopsided scenes and some disconnected moments. There seems to only be one fine girl and a lot of messed up others.