Here’s what I loved about Maggie Marlin’s performance in “Boy’s Life:” it’s natural for an actor to want the audience to like her, or at least appreciate her, but in Marlin’s portrayal of Lisa there was no quarter given to audience appreciation. Just as Lisa simply wants to cut through the bullshit with Don, so does Marlin leave out all actorly flourishes in her dry, determined portrayal. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t tremendous energy in Marlin’s Lisa. By stripping her down, Marlin lies bare Lisa’s essential humanity, defined by her demand for honesty and reality in the midst of so much pandering and posturing. In someone else’s hands, Lisa could just be a ball-busting bitch. In Marlin’s, she’s the only tethered soul amongst many who are clearly adrift.
Like Jack, for instance, played with ingratiating flair by Joe Carlson. Carlson’s performance is in some way the opposite of Marlin’s, which is not to diminish it at all because frankly, I couldn’t take my eyes off him the entire play. Jack is a sort of uber-male and Carlson embraces the role with an amazing dexterity, his force of personality dominating each scene even when he wasn’t speaking. My only regret is that Howard Korder’s script only pits Lisa and Jack against each other for one brief moment. Of course, maybe there was some wisdom in this choice. As the no-nonsense angel and dastardly devil sitting opposite each other on Don’s shoulders, these two coming together could have been like a matter/antimatter convergence, obliterating everything else in close proximity. What a great line though from Lisa, something to the effect of "I think we know who we are." Particularly as delivered by Marlin, that line alone pretty much made up for the few indulgences and misteps I saw in Korder's script.
Focusing on Marlin and Carlson is not meant to diminish anything else or anyone else in the production; everyone did quite well. Amy Sproul was hilarious while also being totally believable, Landon Nagel was excellent as the torn Don, I would have enjoyed a whole show built around Lauren English’s character and her body-waxed boyfriend, London Ray was adorable, and Andrew Donnelly was a bit of a revelation as Phil. Alison Haracznak – someday I want to see her do a big fat leading role. Morrie Piersol seems to just keep getting better with his direction; I think he guided his cast ably away from many of the pitfalls in this material.
While overall I really enjoyed the show, I was reminded why I wasn’t wild about it when I first saw it many years ago. Back then, I had the impression that Korder thought all women were whack-jobs. Emerging feminist that I was, I had a hard time with that. But Marlin’s performance showed me just how strong and centered a character Lisa really is. And looking with a little more clarity at the men, well, they’re all pretty screwed up too. One of the pitfalls I think that exists in the show is the tendency for Korder to write ‘types’ rather than characters, though he’s not nearly as bad as countless other playwrites. Still, it is a pitfall that some of the actors came dangerously close to slipping into.
Anyway, I know it’s after the show has closed and no one really cares, but I had to put my rave out about Marlin and Carlson in particular. They blew me away. Another great season opener from the Firehouse.