An explicit sex tape involving a prep school jock and a young woman decidedly not his girlfriend sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of one entitled Washington DC family in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s suspenseful, provocative Good Boys, now riveting audiences at Pasadena Playhouse.

Meet varsity football captain Brandon Hardy (Ben Ahlers), smart, handsome, and Dartmouth-bound, in other words precisely the kind of son any mother would be proud to call her own in the year 1989.

No wonder, then, that when St. Joseph Prep football coach Russell Shea (James Carpinello) calls Elizabeth Hardy (Betsy Brandt) in for a parent-teacher meeting, Brandon’s physician mother assumes it’s because her golden boy has been awarded yet another commendation for athletic excellence.

Instead, Coach Shea informs Elizabeth of a VHS tape that’s been circulating around St. Joe’s, one that shows a boy who, despite having deliberately kept his face hidden from view, looks suspiciously like Brandon doing things to a girl that no mother would ever want her well-brought-up son to do.

Given the opportunity to review the tape in the privacy of her home (her husband Michael being currently out of town doing medical good deeds), Elizabeth stoutly refuses to believe that the boy in question could possibly be Brandon, whose denials in any case could not be more vehement.

Still, what ends up mattering more than simply ascertaining who made the tape are questions of why and how: why it was made, why it was left in the locker of one St. Joe’s student and not another, why this particular girl was chosen, and most of all, how fear of flouting parental and societal expectations in a culture of prep school privilege can lead to the most reprehensible of acts.

Aguirre-Sacasa’s 2007 play (published as Good Boys And True) has been considerably revised for its Pasadena Playhouse Los Angeles Premiere. Scenes have been added (as has one particularly significant kiss) and Elizabeth’s sister Maddy is now her African-American longtime best friend (and Brandon’s godmother) Tamilla Woodward (Toks Olagundoye).

What hasn’t changed is a late-1980s setting reflective of the playwright’s own teenage experiences in a prep school not unlike St. Joe’s. (One can’t help wondering how Good Boys would play out in 2019 when circulating a sex tape as easy as clicking on Send.)

What also hasn’t changed, or at least not significantly enough, are the lengths to which some people will go maintain a veneer of sexual “normality.”

Carolyn Cantor’s direction is every bit as electrifying as the performances she has elicited from a uniformly splendid cast, beginning with Brandt’s radiant, compelling star turn as a mother whose unconditional love is tested to the breaking point.

 Ahlers’ stunning Pasadena Playhouse debut reveals a charismatic young actor more than capable of convincing us he is every mother’s dream (and perhaps her every nightmare as well).

Dylan Arnold and Brett Cooper make equally powerful first impressions, the former as Brandon’s goofily charming best friend Justin Simmons, as sure and proud of who he is as Brandon is not, and the latter as Cheryl Moody, a “pretty but not too pretty” public school girl who’d do anything if Prince Charming happened to come along.

Carpinello and Olagundoye do solid work as well, with Tristan Boesch, Bradley Coversettle, Danny Cron, and Will White adding prep school color as Brandon and Justin’s fellow teammates, and Cloversettle sharing bonus points with Ahlers and Arnold for some three-part harmonizing.

Last but not least, Good Boys’ Los Angeles Premiere benefits from a Broadway-caliber production design by Dane Laffrey (set), Sara Ryung Clement (costumes), Elizabeth Harper (lighting), and Daniel Gower (sound).

Jennifer Slattery is stage manager and Daniel Trostler is assistant stage manager. Jeffrey Bernstein is music consultant. Casting is by Telsey + C, Tiffany Little Canfield, CSA, and Ryan Tymensky, CSA. Zack Gearing is Prep School Boy alternate.

Completing an all-around splendid Season 2.0 for artistic director Danny Feldman, Good Boys is yet another Pasadena Playhouse stunner you’ll be talking about long after its heartbreakingly hopeful fade to black.

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Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
June 30, 2019
Photos: Jenny Graham


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