The Boys Upstairs
NY Fringe Festival
Soho Playhouse, New York City
The Boys Upstairs is a light, breezy comedy (and yes, it is indeed laugh-out-loud funny at times) which explores the hijinks of three close friends in New York as they navigate the perils of hookups and interpersonal relationships. It is tightly crafted by writer Jason Mitchell, although at times the conceits Sex-and-the-City-esque Tweets sent from downstage right, for exxample grow coy and tedious.
While trust fund baby Josh spennds his time trying to impress his overseers at the Village Voice, his roommate (and former-lover-turned-best-bud) Seth (Joel T. Bauer) is in the grip of a Serious Relationship that threatens to suck him toward responsible older douchebag Matt (played expertly, along with a host of other characters with whom "the boys" hook up, by the versatile David .A Rudd). Naturally, Josh is horrified at the prospect of his friend's impending march toward maturity, and naturally their queeny-and-fabulous pal Ashley (Kristen-Alexzander Griffith) is there to provide Southern-belle homilies and one-night-stands galore as the threesome renegotiate their friendships with one another.
All of this makes The Boys Upstairs undeniably entertaining, with sold-out crowds attesting to this but does it result in theater that one can look to for any enrriched understanding of the human condition, even in the limited scope of three twenty-something homosexuals in Hell's Kitchen?
Not really. For three friends who have been so close for so long, there is little depth or concern with wider world circumstances among these three. While Mitchell paints adept snapshots of the party life - waking up in handcuffs on the couch, trying to find a date for a Friday night club opening, the dream of being published by a big title - one never escapes the sense of an aimless lack of direction among these characters.
Although their living arrangements change over the course of the play, this doesn't feel like a crucial moment in any of their lives, and Josh's eventual evolution is a passive rather than active one, the latter being particularly difficult to achieve when the character in question is a writer, as this kind of beast thrives on observation and analysis rather than gung-ho action. The characters are largely stereotypes (a feeling shared by everyone in my little band of viewers), which doesn't make The Boys Upstairs any less entertaining but does limit its staying power. Mitchell's dialogue is terribly, terribly clever, but is cleverness enough to build a reality from? For the ninety minutes or so of The Boys Upstairs, the answer would seem to be yes - but unlike the boys and their tricks, once the house lights come up and the audience filters onto the streets, very little of this romp around Midtown is likely to follow them home.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody