Review: Boys’ Life – exploring the realities of becoming men

One of Vancouver’s newest theatre companies, Penguin Pool Theatre, presents its inaugural production with Howard Korder’s Pulitzer Prize nominated Boys’ Life, a look at the realities and responsibilities of becoming men.

Boys' LifeDon (Brandyn Eddy), Jack (Matt Russell) and Phil (Martin Hallat) are childhood friends that are about to make the transition to the realities of life after graduating from college.  Don is perhaps the most grounded of the trio on the cusp of manhood and willing to make compromises, Jack is already married with a child and Phil remains confused as to what it might mean to give up his childish ways, desperately ignoring his future.

Throughout the 90 minute production, we are served up a number of vignettes between the three men and the women that come into their lives (Jennifer Shirley, Marianne Mandrusiak, Jacqueline Bennett, Jenna Reed and Sarah Szloboda).  With the play’s structure providing us with more breadth than depth, I found some of the scenes worked better than others.

Interestingly it was when the focus involved the men’s relationships with the women that the show was strongest.  Perhaps this was intentional as it is not hard to believe the relationships of these three straight men might have been entirely superficial, but without a strong narrative to link everything togehter I was hoping to see a deeper bond to give us some clues as to who they were and how they got to where they are now.

While the entire cast gives solid performances, the strongest of the night for me actually came from Jenna Reed who gives us a delightfully crazy woman, who very quickly drives Don from his own apartment.

Director Matt Clarke has taken somewhat of a risk in attempting to update the show as I became somewhat confused as to the time period.  In the end I decided it was meant to be present day but that didn’t always jive with the text and some of the other visual references. Clark was more successful in creating the various locales demanded here, and while some of the transitions did feel a little sluggish, once the scene started he kept things moving.

I must admit I am still trying to come to terms with a new trend I have been seeing lately with what I am going to start referring as the “pre-show”.  Here we have the three men appearing on stage a good five minutes before curtain, lounging about, listening to music, playing with lego.  I’m still not convinced that this, much like breaking down the fourth wall, is entirely necessary and comes across as a little contrived.

While not without its faults, the cast of Boy’s Life give us some real moments here as they explore what it means to become grown-ups, but more importantly, provide us with a glimpse into the future potential of this young company.

(And just to be clear, we tried not to stare too hard.)

3 Out of 5 Stars Boys’ Life
Little Mountain Gallery, 195 East 26th Avenue
13-24 October 2010

Tickets are $15.00 and are available at Red Cat Records, or through penguinpooltheatre@gmail.com.

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