Off-Broadway Review: “All the Fine Boys” at The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “All the Fine Boys” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Closed Sunday March 26, 2017)
Written and Directed by Erica Schmidt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Under the ruse of “receiving consent” from a minor, pedophile Joe (played with a remorseless arrogance by Joe Tippett) plays out an erotic asphyxiation fantasy with fourteen-year-old Jenny (played with a delusional naiveté by Abigale Breslin) in the basement of his suburban South Carolina home after “abducting” her from her home earlier. It does not matter whether Jenny got into Joe’s car or not. Joe “reminds” Jenny, “You walked out of your parents’ front door and got in my car.” Nor does it matter that losing her virginity with Joe (or another of the fine boys she fantasizes about with her best friend Emily (played with a spirited hopefulness interwoven with sadness by Isabelle Fuhrman) has been a frequent topic of “girl talk.” Joe is the adult and he is solely responsible for his inappropriate and illegal activity with a minor.

Jenny’s abduction by a twenty-eight-year-old pedophile and the unexplained extended absence from her home, her friends, and her school is the central theme of Erica Schmidt’s “All the Fine Boys” currently running at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre. Other equally significant themes are: teenage angst (in suburban South Carolina in the late 1980s); coming of age and coming to terms with post-pubescent adolescence; and the concomitant issues of self-esteem exacerbated by age and environment.

Counterpointing Jenny’s story is the narrative involving Jenny’s fourteen-year-old friend Emily and her “fantasy” fine boy Adam (played with a fine irresistible streak by Alex Wolff). Adam is seventeen and wisely rejects Emily’s offer to lose her virginity to him as a birthday present and, instead, offers some of his “wisdom” about life in general including what is “really glorious.” Despite his own angst, Adam treats Emily with respect.

Why Ms. Schmidt chooses to address this theme in 2017 from the point of view of the 1980s is somewhat puzzling. What does the audience learn about pedophilia, indeed about teenage angst, in the present from her play set in the late 1980s?” Of course, the questions about making choices remain rich and enduring no matter the setting; however, “All the Fine Boys” adds nothing new or controversial about the conversation surrounding pedophilia.

There are several issues that detract from the overall success of “All the Fine Boys.” It does not work to use the same space as the setting for every scene. It is not that the properties from one scene are not cleared away during scene changes although having Jenny’s uneaten pizza remain through Emily and Adam’s scenes is a bit disconcerting. It is the overall design of the set and the lighting that seem not to work to the script’s full advantage. Additionally, when the playwright chooses to direct her play, it is easy for the director role not to have sufficient “distance” from the writing to make important decisions about staging. Obviously, it is done: it is just difficult. In this case, the action here is flat and not as engaging as it needs to be.

The four actors do their best with this piece. Mr. Wolff, having far fewer stage credits than his cast members, fares best here giving a truly authentic performance, digging deeply into his character’s conflicts. Mr. Tippett seems uncomfortable which is not surprising given the expectations placed upon him in the “rape” scene with Jenny. The partial nudity and the scene itself are both gratuitous and ill-conceived by the playwright.

What happens to Jenny is really not a surprise. The audience discovers her fate a year after the initial scenes. One hopes for more suspense and a deeper understanding of the important subject matter throughout.