Boys' Life | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Boys' Life, Open Cage Ensemble, at the Cornservatory. Although nominated for a Pulitzer in 1988, Howard Korder's darkly comic look at the sex and/or love lives of three postcollegiate adolescent males can seem dated now: no cell phones, no references to STDs. It can also come across as little more than an extended whine--or whine collage--with various characters waxing positively Beckettian at times about their dating problems.

And yet the young members of the Open Cage Ensemble have wisely recognized that Korder's script compensates for its shortcomings by providing multiple nice to kick-ass opportunities for showcasing their talents. In addition to the title boys--neurotic Phil; toked-up, amoral Jack; and Don, the regular guy seduced by urban hedonism--they've got the five women who orbit them: Karen of the bottomless self-esteem, cynical Maggie, down-to-earth Lisa, blowsy Carla, and (my favorite) the one identified only as Girl, who informs Don postcoitus that she's mentally ill. And proves it.

Any one of these characters might be worked up into a great audition piece--and let's face it, this late-night, late-summer production by a company made up of recent transplants from Southwest Missouri State University is 95 percent audition piece. But under Rusty Sneary's timid, earnest, unfocused direction, none of the play's show-off potential gets realized. The comedy goes missing, the savagery is tame, the eccentricities get blanded out, and nobody's believable. These folks don't strike me as untalented, but their skittishness keeps Open Cage locked up.

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