Reviewed by Jess Linde
Playwrights’ Arena/Atwater Village Theater
Through October 15th
Letting go of past mistakes is rarely easy, even when they are confronted on one’s own terms, as one man attempts to do over the course of three uncomfortable and intimate conversations in Nick Salamone’s new play, Billy Boy.
Without leaving his sparsely decorated bedroom, Michael (Salamone) meets up for a romantic encounter with his ex-sweetheart, Emma (Rachel Sorsa), wakes up reunited with another former lover, David (Matt Pascua), and argues with his mother (Sorsa) at age ten. Each segment begins as a reunion, until Michael begins to probe his resurrected companions about traumatic events in their connected past, hinting at betrayal and heartbreak. Revelations come out on both sides, but Michael can’t seem to get the information he wants, and the mirages in his own life crack, forcing him to see the truth, maybe for the first time.
Salamone plays Michael — a person finally confronting his lifelong guilt— with an aw-shucks normalcy slowly shattered by the revelations of Emma, David, and his mother. Their interactions with him allow these characters to become fully developed in turn. Cryptic lines are explained retroactively, and anecdotes are given more emotional weight after the fact, but it is never confusing, and Sorsa and Pascua flesh out their roles very well. There are plenty of twists and details, but to say much more would be a spoiler, and Billy Boy is best seen without them.
As these events play out, it is striking how much stage time Salamone spends in his underwear (as do Sorsa and Pascua in their parts as Michael’s exes), often in close, yet casually naked contact with the other players. This creates an impressively personal ambience within the Atwater Village Theater’s tiny space, compounded by the set’s smartly-placed flooring. Peninsulas of tile allow the actors to come within inches of the audience, and director Jon Lawrence Rivera’s blocking enhances the tension to a palpable degree. There is an intimacy and vulnerability to the production that simply cannot be faked, a fact sealed by the fantastic performances. Billy Boy’s format allows for genuine surprise and a feeling of satisfaction, as if a real conversation has been had, and something has been worked out. Getting over guilt is not easy, but Billy Boy reminds us that hard choices are often the most worthwhile.
Atwater Village Theater, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Atwater; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; Mon., 8:30 p.m.; Fri., 8:30 p.m. on Oct.13; through Oct. 15. http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3057932) and at the door; Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission.