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Erica Schmidt’s All the Fine Boys handles provocative subject matter in a manner that proves more exploitative than illuminating. Starring Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Scream Queens) and Isabelle Fuhrman (The Hunger Games, Orphan) as 14-year-old girls experimenting with love and sexuality, this world premiere from off-Broadway’s New Group manages to feel simultaneously familiar and lurid.
Set in suburban South Carolina in the 1980s (although for what particular reason is not made clear), the play concerns best friends Jenny (Breslin) and Emily (Furhrman), who like to get together to watch VHS tapes of horror movies and snack on Pringles and Twizzlers. In the overly long first scene, the girls exchange gossip and play Truth or Dare. As realistic as this may be, it proves about as interesting as listening to, well, teenage girls gossiping and playing Truth or Dare.
It turns out that the girls are romantically interested in two very different males with whom they interact separately throughout the rest of the play. Emily has become obsessed with Adam (Alex Wolff, part of The Naked Brothers Band with his sibling Nat), an older boy who had the lead role in the school play and who thinks he’s cool because he plays guitar and dates a college girl. Jenny has set her sights on Joseph (Joe Tippett), a grown man she met in church.
The playwright captures the amusing awkwardness of teenage girls making their first forays into romance, although not in particularly compelling fashion. The scenes featuring Emily and Adam depict her stumbling insecurity and his misplaced confidence. He woos her by singing a Smiths song and casually dropping such pseudo-sophisticated comments as “That’s my suburban malaise talking” and “If patterns are repeated, they mean things.”
The encounters between Jenny and the much older Joseph are by their very nature more disturbing, even if they rarely rise above the level of banal. She feigns sexual confidence, telling him, “I think I know what’s going to happen with us,” even though she really has no idea. He tries to impress her by boasting about his skeet-shooting prowess and showing her his trophy. It soon becomes clear that he’s as immature as she is, and that he’s been withholding significant information about himself. It’s not hard to figure out that things are going to end unhappily.
Schmidt, whose scant writing credits include the book for an off-Broadway musical version of the porn film Debbie Does Dallas, doesn’t do this play any favors with her sluggishly paced direction. As one scene blends into the next, characters from the previous one linger onstage as if they had missed their cues. And while it might have been inappropriate for younger actresses to perform material that includes a graphic sex scene, Breslin and Fuhrman, both aged 20, are less than convincing as adolescents. The men fare better — Wolff is amusing as the cocksure Adam, while Tippett invests his predatory character with intriguing vulnerability.
Nevertheless, from its trivial opening scene to its melodramatic conclusion, All the Fine Boys feels shallow and superficial. What seems clearly intended to be a haunting examination of lost innocence instead comes across like a cautionary made-for-television film from the ‘80s, the era in which the play is set.
Venue: Pershing Square Signature Center, New York
Cast: Abigail Breslin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Joe Tippett, Alex Wolff
Director-playwright: Erica Schmidt
Set designer: Amy Rubin
Costume designer: Tom Broeker
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Bart Fasbender
Presented by The New Group
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