Howard Korder writes insightfully—and hilariously—about the male psyche in his 1988 comedy Boys’ Life, smashingly revived (and smoothy updated to the 21st Century) by Crown City Theatre Company. Impeccably acted and directed, this is a production which ought to disprove once and for all any notion of Los Angeles not being the great theater town it is. 

Slyly named after the venerable “official youth magazine” of the Boy Scouts of America, Boys’ Life focuses on three onetime college buddies now approaching thirty, each with his own distinctive outlook on life.

There’s Jack (Ben Rovner), married with a five-year-old kid, who chats up attractive females with an eye towards what he regards as harmless dalliance.  Jack’s philosophy on adultery: “This is just a nice little affair I’m going to let myself have. A quick tour of foreign panties and then it’s back on the bus home.  Everybody’s happy and no one gets hurt.”

Phil (Jason Karasev) appears at first to be the true romantic of the trio, one whose declaration of love to a woman he’s gone out with twice but not seen for several months (“I’m sick with needing you.  It’s an actual disease.”) appears to be at least somewhat sincere. All the more shocking then when he later confesses to some sexual behavior most would feel to be borderline criminal at the very least.

Don (David Rispoli) is the kind of guy who gets lucky on a first date (He: “Would you like to come home with me?”  She: “Only if you let me pay the check.”) only to risk it all for meaningless sex with a sexy nutcase he thought worked in a record store, but who only pretended to because “I do that sometimes, go into a place and pretend I work there.”

If ever there was a play capable of provoking repeated peals of laughter and heated post-performance discussion, Boys’ Life is exactly that play. In a series of nine trenchant, hilarious scenes, Korder’s comedy makes its audience flies on the walls of Don’s apartment, a restaurant, and a park (make the latter flies on trees) as we observe, chuckle and occasionally gasp at, and attempt to psychoanalyze these three very real young men and the women they love, claim to love, or merely want to bang. There’s Karen (Rachel Jackson), who informs Phil that his attentions come “at a very bad time for me”; Maggie (Libby Baker), the comely runner Jack meets in a park, who takes a pause in a charity 10K to ask, “What’s ten k?”; and sculptor Lisa (Tori Ayres Oman), who responds to Don’s “I love sculpture. It’s very rich, very sensuous,” with a savvy “Don’t try so hard, okay?” Completing the cast are Mikhail Roberts as Karen’s party date (they came dressed as Ken and Barbi), and Paton Ashbrook as both Don’s one-night-stand and Jack’s wife Carla.

Chicagoans Rovner, Rispoli, Karasev, and Oman are all DePaul University Theater grads, Baker is a recent Colorado to L.A. transplant, Jackson trained at Columbia University, Roberts has his BFA from the University Of Cincinatti, and local girl Ashbrook comes from our Los Angeles County High School For The Arts and New York’s American Musical And Dramatic Academy.  Under Dan Velez’s crackerjack direction, the trained and experienced young octet make for a cast to rival any in the country’s reputed theater towns.  Together all eight do some of the most effortlessly natural and thoroughly believable acting you’ll see on any stage here or afar.

Costumes by Tanya Apuya are precisely what each character would choose for him/herself, with bonus points for Karen’s shocking pink Barbi evening gown. Sean Finn’s sound design provides a vivid backdrop to the action—street sounds, party noises, cocktail lounge background music, etc. Working in tandem with an uncredited lighting designer, Sarah Kranin has created a barebones but effective scenic design superimposed over the still-running USS Pinafore set.  The very talented Rovner is producer, Joanne McGee is assistant director, and Kimberly Bullock is production stage manager.

As a college psychology or gender studies class outing, Boys’ Life could easily provide food for several class periods of heated discussion. It would also make for a great Girls’ (or Boys’) Night Out at the theater.  However you choose to see it, Boys’ Life gives eight up-and-coming young actors a terrific showcase for their talents—and one well worth catching.

Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
August 5, 2010
                                                                           Photos: Philip Holbrook

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