Reviewed by Neal Weaver
The Kirk Douglas Theatre
Through August 9
It’s Alliance, Nebraska in 1993, and two teenage boys, Will (Ryder Bach) and Mike (Curt Hanson), face troubling questions about their sexual identity.
In this intimate musical, with book by Todd Almond, music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet based on his album, and direction by Les Waters, Will knows that he is gay, accepts the fact, and finds himself a bit of a social outcast. Mike is a handsome, popular jock and seemingly an All-American-Boy. But he finds himself attracted to Will, even if he doesn’t know quite where his feelings are leading him. He invites Will to go with him to a drive-in movie. Will is overjoyed, since he’s long been nursing a hopeless crush on Mike. It’s still tough going for the two, since they have no common language, despite their aching vulnerability, so they must slowly and painfully seek a way to connect.
Homosexuality is the unacknowledged elephant in the room, but the undercurrent of sexual energy is palpable. Through a long series of sweet, tender and funny stumbling conversations (The most frequently recurring line is “Um.”), the two achieve a mutual if unacknowledged awareness of their feelings. And finally, Mike tells Will that his widowed father will be out of town for the weekend, and invites him over. Will is troubled by the fact that Mike is treating him like a girlfriend, and uptight about them being seen together, but he’s hooked, and accepts the invitation. Inevitably, they tumble into bed. Then, just as inevitably, the problems begin.
The hesitant but irresistible courtship dance is carefully calibrated by director Waters, the two actors perform it beautifully, and the scenes are energized by Sweet’s songs, including “I’ve Been Waiting” and “You Don’t Love Me,” and Joe Goode’s exuberant choreography. Musical accompaniment is provided by an onstage all-female, high energy rock ensemble, headed by music director Julie Wolf on keyboard and guitar, with Vivi Rama (bass), Janet Robin (lead guitar) and Jyn Yates (drummer).
Though Almond’s basic premise seems a bit slight to support a 90-minute show, and sometimes the delicacy of the handling fails to create the needful dramatic thrust, the writing is clever and perceptive, the execution is terrific, and the other elements more than compensate.
David Zinn’s set seems unnecessarily vast and abstract for such an intimate tale, but his costumes are right on.
Center Theatre Group/The Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Boulevard, Culver City; Tues.-Wed. & Fri., 8 p.m.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through August 9. (213) 628-2772, www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.