The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center
Ford Foundation Studio Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 26, $65-$85
The New Group’s All the Fine Boys is an extremely uncomfortable show to watch and hard to recommend, dealing with a controversial topic in challenging ways. The play, which opened last night at the tiny Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center, is well written, well acted, but clumsily directed by playwright Erica Schmidt, the wife of Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage and whose previous credits include the musical adaptation of Debbie Does Dallas. In a South Carolina suburb in the late 1980s, fourteen-year-old besties Jenny (Abigail Breslin) and Emily (Isabelle Fuhrman) watch horror movies and talk about boys and death. “I don’t really want to get older? I mean, I want to get out of middle school and I really want it to be summer and I’m excited to have a birthday party but getting older? I don’t know,” Jenny says. “I know what you mean. Like, sometimes I think, we’ll never ever be younger,” Emily responds. “This morning I looked in the mirror and thought: This is it. It’s never going to get better than this,” Jenny adds. Emily has her heart set on losing her virginity to dreamy seventeen-year-old Adam (Alex Wolff), a serious guitarist and poet who is starring in the high school play, Our Town, while Jenny is attracted to Joseph (Joe Tippett), a skeet-shooting champion from her church who is twice her age. Each girl explores her burgeoning sexuality with very different results.
Fuhrman (The Hunger Games, Orphan) and Oscar nominee Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, The Miracle Worker) are terrific as the adolescent girls, endlessly chatting away with no real understanding of what they are getting themselves into. Fuhrman brings a sweetly innocent charm to Emily, who is worried about how big her breasts are getting, while the gravelly voiced Breslin evokes Emma Kenney’s portrayal of Debbie Gallagher in Shameless, as the chunky Jenny heads to a point of no return. Schmidt’s dialogue is sharp and on target; throughout the show, I couldn’t help but notice many women in the audience nodding in agreement at various things the two girls say to each other. It’s important to note that both actresses are actually twenty, especially in a critical scene between Jenny and Joseph that will have you upset that you’re not looking away (as well as wondering if it was necessary to be so graphic). Meanwhile, Wolff (The Naked Brothers Band, Patriots Day) and Tippett (Airline Highway, Familiar) do a strong job keeping their stock characters from becoming clichés. Amy Rubin’s set is a fairly standard suburban living room, with couch, television, radio, and VCR, a bathroom/entrance on one side and hallway on the other. Small changes are made as the action shifts from Jenny’s house to Adam’s room to Joseph’s place, but the overlaps (for example, leaving a pizza box on a table as the location changes) are distracting. The period soundtrack features songs by Hall & Oates, the Psychedelic Furs, the Cure, and the Smiths. All the Fine Boys is a flawed coming-of-age drama that explores a formidable topic in provocative ways that make it hard to recommend, but it will stick in your psyche long after you leave the theater.