There isn't much director Catherine Lamm could do with a play like Frank Stancati's Just Us Boys except block it so the characters don't bump into each other. And the word "characters" is used loosely, since the boys on stage are mostly a combination of attitude, quips and sass. So the best to be hoped for is a good sense in the casting process, and get a bunch of guys who can deliver the fluff with the lack of weight it merits, and hope the audience is not expecting Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Because with no expectations, Just Us Boys is painless, and thanks to the game cast, often amusing and sometimes downright funny. The bunch of chorus boys who share dressing room 7 may (or may not) be typical of any bunch of dancers toiling away in any known (or unknown) Broadway musical, but after awhile it's obvious that isn't the point. It's a bitch-fest, where every line is an attempted zing. Plot elements are announced way in advance, emotions are broad but superfluous, and secrets exist only so they can be revealed.
Once Anthony (James Blanshard), the troupe's dance captain, announces he's through getting involved with younger men, it's only a matter of time before.... And once it's revealed that Mike (Emanuele Ancorini), the swing, is of unknown sexual orientation, then it's a sure bet that.... Joey (Jarrod Cafaro), the youngest of the bunch, has a parade of admirers known by their professions (Lawyer Man, Banker Man); Sam (Alexander Koltchak), is the token straight man; Peter (Brad Thomason) is the bitchy queen with a heart. Rivalries, jealousies, petty slights, grand dramas and betrayals, broken hearts -- it's all in there. Except for the frequent exits to appear in the musical Depression! (I'm guessing about the exclamation point, but it's a virtual certainty there is one), these guys could as conceivably be in a prison, or office cubicles -- there's even bitching about the locations of their makeup tables. There is only a small bit of choreography (by Joanne Borts) presented, but there's enough changing of clothes that it could be the dressing room at Loehman's. So until the characters' traits get sorted out, it's helpful to identify each by his underwear.
But it is, after all, a comedy. Thomason has such a fine, easy way with his lines that much of what he did was quite funny; Cafaro had the spoiled-young-thing down just right; Koltchak could indeed be bedding the leading lady and get hired for a soap opera; Blanshard had the wounded-puppy-dog bit down pat, and Ancorini could be working both sides of the fence. It's only a matter of time before Thomason and Cafaro get into a Bette Davis/Miriam Hopkins (or is it Krystal/Alexis?) hair-pulling match. Confessing their desires for the future does give them a little depth (who wants to keep dancing for years in a lousy musical no matter how successful it is?); and although there's a flirtation with a Chorus Line injury, no one is permanently debilitated. A broken heart turns out not to be fatal, the callowest turns out to have integrity, the prickliest gives his notice before he's fired, and the prospect of a fresh face in the dressing room -- well, life goes on, doesn't it? If the rumored-about gay cable network ever gets launched, Just Us Boys is just the kind of Lifetime-like programming that would go over big.
Also with Mac Hardcastle as the Rip Taylor-like stage-manager voice on the loudspeaker who gives the five-minute call at seven or eight minutes because, well, just because, OK? And production stage manager Nadine Charlsen and her assistant Peter Brown really did get them all on and off stage without bumping into each other, and with the right props.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler