The ancient Greeks had a saying: “The boys throw stones at the frogs in jest, but the frogs die in earnest.” No one dies in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s powerful drama “Good Boys & True,” now being performed at Actor’s Express through February 13, but there are all kinds of death: the death of innocence, trust, security, friendship, and serenity. Ah, the emotional battleground that is high school. Director Melissa Foulger has assembled a superb cast to hold the audience spellbound for two tension-filled hours. You may recall Ms. Foulger’s beautiful production of Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” from last season.
The year is 1988. The place is suburban Washington D. C. at St. Joseph’s, an exclusive Jesuit prep school for boys. The BMOC (big man on campus) seems to be Brandon Hardy (Louis Gregory)–good-looking, athletic, wealthy (both parents are doctors)–and with all the right connections. Russell Shea (Rial Ellsworth), his coach, has discovered a videotape (VCR’s—remember them?) of a boy and a girl having sex; the boy appears to be Brandon, although his face on the tape is obscured. The coach calls Brandon’s mother, Elizabeth (Tess Malis Kincaid), in for a conference (the two are old friends). She learns that the tape has been shown to other students. The heedlessness of many young people—especially privileged young people who have a warped sense of entitlement—is not to be believed.
Although Brandon denies that it is he on the tape, the story spreads like wildfire. Elizabeth’s no-nonsense sister Maddy (Stacy Melich), offers cold comfort and reminds Elizabeth that the girl on the tape, Cheryl (Ashleigh Hoppe), is the real victim, and we meet her rather late in the play in an unforgettable scene. Brandon’s best friend, Justin (Brent Rose) hero-worships Brandon and adds another layer of complexity to the two boys (and the play); he will do literally anything for Brandon.
At this point I must be careful not to divulge any spoilers, and believe me, the temptation is strong. In this age of Facebook and YouTube shockers, you may think all this sounds a bit quaint and soap opera-ish. Not so, gentle reader. You could have heard a pin drop in the opening night audience, and most could hardly wait for the intermission to end. Although playwright Aguirre-Sacasa adroitly adds layers as the play proceeds, we must here joyfully sing the praises of this cast, in whom there are no weak links.
Tess Malis Kincaid is brilliant as Elizabeth, Brandon’s mother, and she soon reveals a past as thorny and problematic as her son’s. Louis Gregory is riveting as he reveals both the beauty and the folly of youth—the proverbial thief who’s not sorry he stole but is terribly sorry he’s going to jail. Brent Rose is heartbreaking as the weaker (or is he?) best friend, who “loves him (Brandon) unendurably but without being able to help him,” to quote Tennessee Williams. Ms. Melich and Mr. Ellsworth have nary a false moment. And Ashleigh Hoppe, as the victimized Cheryl, is a real discovery. She is frighteningly believable; she reveals at once that she belongs totally in the stellar company she is keeping.
If you care about finely written and superbly performed drama, you really must see “Good Boys & True.” Kudos to Artistic Director Freddie Ashley, who is keeping Actor’s Express at the forefront of Atlanta theatres; and a bouquet of gratitude for Director Melissa Foulger—she is the real deal.