Empty Angst: The New Group’s ‘All the Fine Boys’
by April Stamm
What could be better fodder for a play than the oppressive wretchedness and frenetic glee of being a middle school girl in small town America in the 80s? You’ve got your disillusionment with family and peers who don’t understand you, awkwardness of living in a body that’s changing so rapidly it doesn’t even seem like your own, budding sexuality wrapped in anticipation and fear, all set to a perfect soundtrack from the likes of The Cure, The Go-Go’s, and The Smiths. Unfortunately, Erica Schmidt’s foray into this very world in her new play, All the Fine Boys, misses those juicy marks at almost every turn.
Set in suburban South Carolina, All the Fine Boys follows best friends Emily and Jenny as they navigate their middle school existence through their friendship with each other and their respective relationships with older beaus. Emily is head over heels for Adam, a senior, and a regular artsy, rebel, guitar-playing, self-involved, minor league bad boy. As for Jenny, she throws herself, perhaps not knowing exactly where she’ll land, at a man double her age from her church. The action of the play flips back and forth between the two couples as their interactions turn to ersatz relationships, and then fall apart in both predictable and pseudo-shocking ways.
As a script, All the Fine Boys does not give actors much to chew on. If we are to take in the play as a “slice of life” drama, the dialog and character development fall flat. Both girls are drawn with broad, uncomplicated strokes, and while there are contradictions, they play more as liberties taken to move the plot along as opposed to honest and interesting character crafting. However, if we should look at the play and its writing less literally and assume the four characters are symbols of the struggles of youth and complications of love and sex, then that would mean we should see love, sex, and youth as trite and banal because that’s what plays out in these 100 minutes.
As Emily, Isabelle Fuhrman pulls from the role what she can. Although she takes a scene or two to convince us, Fuhrman does eventually find tiny bits of truth in Emily, the smart, new girl in school who is desperate for warmth and attention. On the other hand, Abigail Breslin as Jenny never quite finds her groove. She is playacting, and cannot get herself off of the page. She seems uncomfortable on stage, noticeably agitated by her costumes and stilted in her delivery. If she could channel the awkwardness as an actor to the awkwardness of her character it could work, but Breslin can’t find her way.
The two men don’t fare much better. Alex Wolff’s young, cocky Adam comes off as the same guitar wielding, angst-ridden teen we’ve seen a million times with no nuance. As for Joe, Trippett’s portrayal of the conflicted, religious zealot and pedophilic Joseph, is blank and without passion, making his sometimes ridiculous and often impulsive decisions as a character completely nonsensical.
Amy Rubin’s set and Erica Schmidt’s direction may have worked on paper. The stifled, dark mottled walls serve as a depressing living room, Jenny’s basement, Adam’s bedroom, and Joseph’s apartment. The scenes change as they run into each other, one beginning before the last is cleared away, which does keep things moving along. Both create a feeling of fast, yet strangely crowded loneliness that is probably meant to mirror the characters’ strife. However, with so little in the play to connect with, it just comes off as an ugly room and a forced pace.
Being a girl in her early teens is painfully awkward and anyone who ever was one knows that. However, instead of delving into that world and helping us to feel something about it, All the Fine Boys simply sits with not much to say.
All the Fine Boys
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through March 26
April Stamm is a freelance theater, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to EDGE Media Network.