Highly recommended Home iswhere we feel safe! But, is that the home where we grew up? In Joel Drake Johnson’s “The Boys Room” now in its World Premiere at Victory Gardens Theatre- The Biograph, we meet two brothers Tim ( deftly handled by Steve Key) s recent divorcee who has lost his job and has come home to “find himself” and his older brother Ron ( a remarkable job by Joe Dempsey) a Dentist who hearing that his wife has cancer leaves to return to his childhood room. Their mother,Susan ( the marvelous Mary Ann Thebus, who is not only perfect in this role, but offers an acting clinic in 90 minutes- young aspiring actors will learn the full gamut of emotions and character building just watching this expert bring Susan to life) is not happy about having her lifestyle changed by having these middle aged “boys” once again showing their “need” for a caretaker. This is a “Dark comedy” ( a title that Johnson doesn’t appreciate) but has many touching and funny moments. There is a lot of use of the “F – word”, but even when used by Ron’s daughter, Roann ( a dynamic performance by young Allison Torem who many of us have watched grow up on Chicago stages) uses it, we don’t cringe as Johnson’s characters are very real and let’s face it real people in the heat of emotion do let themselves go.
These are two very weak men who in reality are still boys. Tim is a failure at everything he does and has all but given up. Ron on the other hand has a problem of facing reality and real situations. Their mother, a strong, somewhat domineering person who leads a simple life which she is trying to rebuild, has met a neighbor that she feels could be more than a friend. he is Hispanic and so she is self teaching herself Spanish ( some delightful comic touches, in particular when her granddaughter Roann tries to help her). We can see her unhappiness with her sons and what has happened to their lives, but we also see that she does indeed have love and caring within her as we watch her converse with her granddaughter, a 16 years old that she is closer with than her own sons. During this emotional roller-coaster ride, we learn a great deal about each of these characters and something that happened when the boys were young that will make you think more about how they ended up the way they are and why they are back in the room they shared as little boys, but when this story of the past is told, it appears that it is a key to Ron’s metamorphosis from boy to man.
Finely directed by veteran Sandy Shinner, the emotional roller-coaster is easy to ride. We laugh- we get concerned- and even shed a tear or two as we watch these lives try to untangle from the web that was woven for them called life. The set by Jeffrey Bauer is a two level one that allows us access to the living room/kitchen area and the boys room, still decorated as if two little boys were living in the room, and through most of the play, this is in fact, true! Todd Hensley’s lighting effects enhance the mood of each scene and Andre Pluess ‘s sound design along with Carol J.Blanchard’s costumes complete Shimmer’s picture. This is a show filled with props and I mean filled (a full kitchen and living room with real food) and of course a bedroom with everything a bedroom might contain. Grant Sabin didn’t overlook a single detail. Victory Gardens brings lots of new productions to its stage and many written by their Ensemble playwrights and Johnson is a remarkable listener and viewer of life around him, thus he is able to capture very real situations and put them on paper adding some comic touches where needed and hitting the right buttons so that we the audience can think about how we might deal with a situation such as this. Thos of us who are parents with grandkids, in many cases do offer our grandkids more tenderness than we do our own kids. Is there a reason? I am sure it is different for all, but I think, for most of us, it is that we don’t get a chance to mold them as we would like to and perhaps even make up for some of the errors we might have made in raising their parents. For others, it is just the fact that we do not have to do anything but love them, console them and offer them as much praise as we can.
“The Boys Room” will continue at The Victory Gardens Theater located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue ( just north of Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln intersection) through February 20th with performances as follows:
Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. Sundays at 3 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m.( Feb.5th,12th and 19th). There will be a Tuesday evening performance on February 9th at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets range in price from $20-$50 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at www.victorygardens.org
Valet parking is available and the streets are metered, but discounted parking is available in the Children’s memorial Hospital lot one block south of the theater on Lincoln Avenue.