Review by Beatrice Williams-Rude
“I Know What Boys Want” is a new play on a contemporary subject: the dangers posed by the Internet. This black comedy is a cautionary tale.
In days of yore, mothers would warn pubescent daughters exchanging notes with their boyfriends not to put anything in a letter that would be embarrassing should it fall into the hands of a third party, or resurface years in the future. Then there’s the advice a father gave his daughter in Garson Kanin’s 1946 play, “Born Yesterday”: Never do anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of The New York Times.
In “I Know What Boys Want,” a video of a very young couple, Vicky and Roger, is taken by a cell phone and put on the Internet where it goes viral, humiliating and infuriating Vicky.
The play then delves into the generational divide (it was ever thus) and feminism as it follows Vicky’s attempts to obtain the offending phone, which belongs to Oliver, ostensibly the best friend of Roger.
At the Saturday matinee performance (July 25), the audience was largely as young as the prep schoolers portrayed on stage and was also overwhelmingly female. This work really resonated. When Vicky punched Roger the audience cheered. Her assault on Oliver was greeted even more enthusiastically. At times, lines drew applause. This audience was the most engaged I’ve seen since the Metropolitan Opera trashed “Tosca” and even critics were booing.
The enthusiasm and the fury lead an antediluvian to ponder: if this is really a time of casual sex, why are these very young students so upset? To those on stage the idea that it could affect college admissions is one consideration. But for those in the audience?
The work opens charmingly with a group of cast members making the “turn off your cell phones” announcement punctuated by “if you don’t. I’ll hire Patti LuPone to come and snatch it from you.” That, sadly, was the last time every line, every word could be heard and understood.
Except for Roger, in a strong performance by Alex Esola; Oliver, well played by Jesse Shane Bronstein; and, most of the time, Ted, sensitively played by Alexander Nifong, there were projection problems, particularly when the performers lowered their voices for dramatic effect or turned from the audience. This should not be a problem in a theater as small as the Lion.
The otherwise excellent direction was by Joan Kane.
Olivia Scott is lovely as Vicky and Lué McWilliams believable as her mother. Kelsey Wang has one of the most amusing lines when she notes that because she’s Asian everybody assumes she’s smart, “and I’m not.”
The character of Oliver, who promulgated the action, has mixed motives. His father is in prison, having been “ratted on” by the father of Roger who reported him to a government agency dealing with shady financial dealings. Oliver’s mother is gallivanting in Europe and has never visited the father in prison. This is the son’s revenge on behalf of his father; however, he also lusts after Vicky and attempts to blackmail her into sleeping with him.
When Vicky gains possession of Oliver’s smart phone, she destroys it, to huzzahs from the audience.
The very sweet finale has Vicky and Hannah, friends, agreeing to communicate with one another, face to face, without electronic devices.
Charlotte Froyland is a sympathetic Hannah. Others in the cast include Molly Collier, as Emma; and the ensemble: Lori Lusted, Phoebe Torres, Meghan St. Thomas and Joshua Spencer. The author of this bright, timely play is Penny Jackson, who has fun with the audience with the last names of two characters, the two whose fathers are involved with financial chicanery: Roger Chase and Oliver Bourse.
This work is far bigger and much more important than the travails of its characters. It exposes an ugly situation that at some point will have to be addressed legally. It tackles a topic that will be problematic for the foreseeable future.
A candidate for president was asked by a student how to best prepare for running for the nation’s highest office. The answer was, “Be careful what you put on Facebook.”
“I Know What Boys Want” is produced by Bruce.A! Kraemer of Ego Actus. Scenic design by David Goldstein, costumes by Caitlin Cisek, lighting by Dennis Parichy, sound by Andy Evan Cohen and projection design by Jim Marlowe.
It will run through August 2 at the Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street (Theatre Row). For tickets visit TeleCharge or call (800) 432-7250. www.egoactus.com
Photos: Al Foote III