Erica Schmidt’s All the Fine Boys at the New Group Theatre chronicled how systematic patriarchy first destructively subsumes and dictates the worldviews of two girls too young to know any better.
Though there are hints that this tragic adoption of society’s subjugating norms may be permanent, the last moment seems to suggest otherwise by subtly reversing the iconic ending of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, perhaps THE most seminal dramatic text regarding the plight of women. Here, she CLOSES the door on a patriarchal symbol.
The static, overlapping sets and props conveyed the general universality of women’s experiences with subjugation, and the influential centrality of watching television – both in the play and to the set (there wasn’t much else on stage besides the TV setup) – subtly suggested that female adolescents would be better off watching socially-conscious warning stories like this play instead of the paternity-perpetuating dreck usually offered by the boob tube.
Unfortunately, the resonance of this subtext – and much of the play, for that matter – was often dampened, and sometimes even outright obscured by Schmidt’s inability to connect realistically with the characters’ ages. Adult artists frequently have a hard time naturalistically capturing and depicting youthful mores, creating an inauthentic vibe that largely hinders emotional engagement. In addition, barring the few productions that require EVERY element to conform to a unified vision (example: Richard Nelson’s recent cycles), a playwright directing their own work – as was the case here – suffers from lacking a dramatically crucial multiplicity of voices.
Perhaps this excessive singularity is to blame for the cast’s one-dimensionally stiff performances. Abigail Breslin, the “star” of the production, once again confirmed my suspicion that she’ll only be remembered as Little Miss One-Hit-Wonder Sunshine (which is admittedly still better than a no-hit blunder). Luckily for her, insecure stage fright and insecure teenage angst manifest themselves in similar behaviors – unsure physicality (such as feet shuffling), hyper-speed speech, monotonous sentence structures delivered monotonously, and inconsistent characterizations – which makes it tough to evaluate the intentionality and thus success of her performance; she shouldn’t receive credit for playing a part that just so happens to justify her amateur performance tics.
Sadly, the best reason to see All the Fine Boys had nothing to do with the play nor production; audiences were granted the opportunity to check out the rarely (if ever before?) utilized Ford Studio inside the now even more tremendous (in both size and quality) Pershing Square Signature Center.