Theater Review - Good Boys & True bears witness against abuse of privilege

Actor's Express production is by far the best of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's scripts produced in Atlanta

Back in the 1980s, sex-tape scandals actually meant something. Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa sets his prep-school drama Good Boys & True in 1988, the same year Rob Lowe videotaped some bedroom athletics while in Atlanta for the Democratic National Convention. The tape's illicit release temporarily made Lowe a celebrity pariah. In the online age, recorded sex acts can cross the world in seconds, yet can be more likely to launch a career than wreck one.

Directed by Melissa Foulger at Actor's Express, Good Boys & True takes place in and around St. Joseph's Preparatory School for Boys in a Washington, D.C., suburb, where a salacious video of a teenage couple makes the rounds. The young man's face remains out of view, but he resembles Brandon Hardy (Louis Gregory), St. Joseph's golden boy as football team captain and the Ivy League-bound son of two doctors. Brandon repeatedly denies it's him, but Good Boys & True's tale of the tape reveals increasingly ugly implications about how a culture of privilege reveals its dark side through sexuality.

When Brandon's coach (Rial Ellsworth) discovers the tape, he tries to keep the incident under wraps and only informs the boy's mother, Elizabeth (Tess Malis Kincaid). The adults agree Brandon's a "good boy," surely incapable of doing such demeaning things on camera, and hope to contain the scandal without harming his academic future. Their grown-up naiveté seems credible, but they clearly can't control a tape that's already loose in the community.

Brandon's father, a St. Joseph alumnus, happens to be out of the country on an altruistic medical mission, which proves to be an ingenious dramatic decision. Where the unseen father could more readily employ the old boy network to hush things up, Elizabeth's empathy for the exploited girl in the tape prevents her maternal feelings from ignoring the moral transgressions. Kincaid's wrenching performance makes Elizabeth something of a tragic heroine when she realizes her life of entitlement has tacitly endorsed some unspeakably cruel attitudes and traditions.

An effete classmate (Brent Rose) knows a secret about Brandon, and the young men's scenes contain the charged and, at times tender, emotions of a relationship on the down-low. Good Boys & True does not, however, take easy shortcuts to explain character motivations. Gregory effectively conveys the ways Brandon's behavior can be a mystery to himself. He's a gregarious, well-meaning youth who takes as a given some hateful assumptions.

Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't let sexual subplots distract him from the play's indignant themes about class-related contempt and sexism. Good Boys & True means to bear witness against the tactics of brutal dominance among America's best and brightest, without diminishing the responsibility of individuals raised in a flawed society. Foulger's direction includes occasional slideshows of archival prep school photos and trophy cases, an unsubtle touch that works surprisingly well at conveying the school's entrenched heritage.

Actor's Express and Dad's Garage have both long been supporters of the prolific playwright, previously staging such clever but insubstantial comedies as Say You Love Satan and Based on a Totally True Story. With work ranging from Marvel Comics to HBO's "Big Love," Aguirre-Sacasa's writing shows pop culture savvy and a gift for construction, but Good Boys & True is by far the best of his scripts produced in Atlanta. The only weak point is a knee-jerk use of 1980s footnotes – Fatal Attraction, Less Than Zero, a Rubik's Cube – which borders on self-parody after a while. (A reference to carryout coffee from 7-Eleven amusingly harks back to the pre-Starbuck's era, though.)

Good Boys & True shares themes with Doubt, another fiery critique of a Catholic institution's abuse of power. Young Ashleigh Hoppe plays what could be called the Viola Davis role as a female who angrily testifies to the cost of victimization. Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't waver in his attempt to hold a way of life accountable for its misdeeds, and refuses to fall back on the excuse that boys will be boys.

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