By Donna Herman
As a reviewer, I get a press release giving me the pitch to come see the play. So I get a general idea of what the play is about and who is involved. In the case of All the Fine Boys, the spiel goes like this: “Fourteen-year-old best friends Jenny (Abigail Breslin) and Emily (Isabelle Fuhrman) are hungry for knowledge and experience, and in suburban South Carolina in the late ’80s, experience is readily found with older boys. Emily chooses her senior crush from the high school play (Alex Wolff), and Jenny, a man she’s seen at her family’s church (Joe Tippett). …Erica Schmidt’s All the Fine Boys dives…into the complications of sexual awakening and the first painful gasps of adulthood.” Sounds like a John Hughes movie to me, but I’m game.
The play opens with a scene between Jenny and Emily that establishes them as besties. Jenny has lived in town all her life and Emily has only been there for a year. Both are on the hormonal roller coaster ride that has them believing they are adults and ready for everything at one moment and uncertain and afraid of themselves and everyone else the next. Where Jenny is louder and brasher, Emily is more reserved and a little less assured. They are on the outskirts of the cool crowd and in fact, Emily’s house is regularly tp’d overnight. And, simply because she’s developed faster than other girls, the word “slut” has been written in her driveway in shaving cream.
After the first scene, we never see Jenny and Emily together again. The following scenes are all played between each girl and her crush. Jenny and Joseph, the inappropriate 28 year-old nuclear technician she met at a church party of her father’s; and Emily and Adam, the 17 year-old high school senior.
The two girls have the predictable experiences. Emily, who flirts with a “safe” sort of classmate, gets her heart broken. We can see why. Adam, portrayed pitch perfectly by Alex Wolff, is charming and irresistible in a smug, pseudo-intellectual way designed to sweep naïve girls off their feet. Jenny, who goes off with someone even he says is a stranger to her, gets a lot more than just her heart broken. Early in the first scene between Joseph and Jenny, they’re both sitting on opposite ends of his couch and she leans over in what she thinks is a seductive pose and says “I think I know what’s going to happen with us, don’t you?” No crystal ball is necessary here, everyone but Jenny knows what’s going to happen. And it’s not going to be good.
Which brings me to the main problem with All the Fine Boys. Why did Erica Schmidt feel compelled to tell this story? It’s not a new one. It’s been told many times before. No new insights into motivation or character on either side. Why set it in the 1980’s as opposed to any other time? There was nothing, except perhaps the lack of cell phones, that made the plot work any better than setting it in the current time. And there were some thin parts in the plot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not badly written, the characters are fully developed, there’s some humor, there’s some dramatic tension. But in the end, I just couldn’t see the point.
I will say that the performances were excellent. Abigail Breslin, and Isabelle Fuhrman, who I had a hard time buying as young girls in the first scene together, had me convinced by the end. There’s nothing like the presence of a good-looking man to turn a woman into a simpering fool. Sigh. That’s an age-old story. Oft told.
All the Fine Boys Written and Directed by Erica Schmidt
WITH: Abigail Breslin (Jenny); Isabelle Fuhrman (Emily); Joe Tippett (Joseph); Alex Wolff (Adam)
Scenic design by Amy Rubin; costume design by Tom Broecker; lighting design by Jeff Croiter; sound design by Bart Fasbender; movement by Lorenzo Pisoni; production stage manager, Jilian M. Oliver; assistant stage manager, Hannah E. Spratt; production supervisor, Production Core; casting by Judy Henderson. Produced by The New Group, Scott Elliott, Artistic Director; Adam Bernstein, Executive Director. At the Ford Foundation Studio Theater at the The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Through March 26th. For tickets www.ticketcentral.com