Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review - The Boys Upstairs (New York International Fringe Festival and Justin Allen Pifer, in association with The Present Company)

Review by Bryan Stryker
Photo by Samantha Souza

"Sex, dating, friendship, and all the blurry lines in between."

You have to love when plays can be summed up in ten words or less. It's even better when it's true and when the production is well-done. Jason Mitchell's world premiere of The Boys Upstairs presented as part of the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival is both true and well-done.

Welcome to the world of Seth, Josh, and Ashley - three friends who have definitely gone through the roller coaster ride of life together. Seth (Joel T. Bauer) and Josh (Nic Cory) reside together in a stylish Hell's Kitchen apartment. Their friend, Ashley (Kristen-Alexander Griffith) and his many one-night stands (all played by David A. Rudd) are frequent overnight guests. Throw in the sexually ambiguous, but nonetheless incredibly hot new neighbor downstairs, Eric (Josh Segarra), and the new "Boys in the Band" morphs into "Friends" to "Sex in the City" and back again.

In eleven tightly-crafted, well-written scenes, we are allowed into these characters lives. Josh is a budding writer for the Village Voice who longs to be a gay Carrie Bradshaw. Seth is entering the "serious" stage of his relationship with his new boyfriend Matt. Ashley is returning from Paris to reunite with his two best friends . . . and every man he has yet to bed in the Big Apple.

Nic Cory gives a great performance as the neurotic, high strung, intense Josh. Joel T. Bauer's Seth is definitely the boy next door type, one that's not easily flustered, though that may due to his pot smoking. Cory and Bauer play off of each other very well, and Josh and Seth's friendship is very believable as a result. One slight criticism is that Josh, although only an intern at the Village Voice, appears too old to hold such a position, even if we do learn within the course of the show that he is a trust fund baby.

Josh Segarra's Eric is portrayed as the ripped muscle guy you're more likely to find working out on the bench press and drinking beer at the sports bar, than dancing on the bar at Splash. The ambiguity that Segarra infuses in Eric makes the characters (and, of course, the audience) wonder "is he, or isn't he?". You'll have to watch the show to find out.

The scene stealers of The Boys Upstairs are David A. Rudd with his multiple personas and Kristen-Alexzander Griffith as Ashley. They take full advantage of their stage time and make each moment shine. Rudd has the more difficult task of making each of his six characters unique and distinguishable - a New Jersey "guido" type, the doting boyfriend of Seth, a leather daddy from the Eagle, an aspiring chorus boy, and more. As he's paired with Griffith in several scenes, their chemistry must be solid through the various incarnations that Rudd must portray. And, thankfully, it is.

Any moment Griffith is on the stage assures a laugh. From his dramatic entrance, to the random sexual situations he wakes up to in the morning, he makes the most of his time on stage. Even when a stray fly threatened to interrupt his performance, he stayed fully in character as he swatted it away. Ashley has a way of taking any other character's moment away from them, and bringing the attention full circle back to him - Griffith stays absolutely true to Ashley's self-absorbed nature.

Jason Mitchell has crafted a fine script that is very tight with very little fat. The characters are well developed and not cookie cutter representations of the LGBT community. The script requires an intense amount of pacing and timing that can only be successful with a good director and cast. Thankfully, he has both. Some scenes would not achieve the laughs they received if it weren't for the solid direction from Matthew Corozine. The only production criticism is that a few light cues were missed in this performance leaving Nic Cory to delivery his transition scene monologue on Justin Couchara's well-appointed, but dimly lit stage.

The Boys Upstairs is definitely one of the highlights of this year's festival and should not be missed.

The Boys Upstairs
Written by Jason Mitchell
Directed by Matthew Corozine
Lighting/Sound Designer: Nick Gonsman
Scenic/Costume Designer: Justin Couchara

Featuring: Nic Cory (Josh), Joel T. Bauer (Seth), Josh Segarra (Eric), Kristen-Alexander Griffith (Ashley), David A. Rudd (All their boyfriends, dates, & tricks)

SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street
Saturday, August 15 at 2:30 PM
Sunday, August 16 at 12:30 PM
Tuesday, August 18 at 7 PM
Thursday August 27 at 5 PM
Friday, August 28 at 7 PM

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