“Boys will be boys,” the old saying goes. Coming to the stage at Browncoat Pub and Theatre, will be screenwriter and playwright Howard Korder’s story about coming into manhood with “Boys’ Life.” Written in 1988, the script earned Korder a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Drama. The prolific writer is also behind the scripts for the 1999 TV-movie “The Passion of Ayn Rand” and “Lakeview Terrace” (2008). His play, “Search and Destroy,” was converted into the 1995 movie of the same title.
Lead actor Hank Toler actually suggested “Boys’ Life” to local director Nick Smith, who hadn’t heard or seen the production. Toler first discovered the play 10 years ago when he was a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and has wanted to take on the role of Jack ever since. Trusting Toler’s instincts, Smith quickly jumped on board. “I was honored that he brought it to me to help bring it to life,” Smith says.
The play chronicles the lives of three college buddies—Jack (Toler), Don (Brendan Carter) and Phil (Chase Harrison)—as they make the much-dreaded transition into middle agedom. Having reveled in youthful follies of drugs, booze and women, they’re adjustment comes with struggle. The comedy examines the cynical Jack, a married father, who experiments with adultery. Don, deciding that it’s high time to grow up, attempts a successful relationship. Conversely, the innocent Phil realizes life’s unhappiness as he wrestles with not being taken seriously. The poor sap falls in love with almost every girl he sees.
“We all hit that point where we realize we have to give up our care-free ways and be responsible; some later than others,” Smith describes. “The play shows us three guys in various stages of this, but I think broadly enough that anyone can relate. Plus, the female characters have their own neuroses too, so it covers all the bases.”
The play comprises a series of nearly unrelated vignettes, culminating in a slice-of-life feel. “Boys’ Life” revels in unlikable characters. Audiences must peel back their layers in order to appreciate them. Their amoral, self-indulgent ways render a laugh-riot over the course of the play.
As well, Toler’s dreams of playing Jack will aid him in bringing the character to life.“It’s easy to say that Jack is unlikable; it certainly wouldn’t be untrue,” he describes. “Jack is a husband and a father, but he doesn’t appear to have much of an interest or investment in either one of those responsibilities. He openly gets stoned on park benches and attempts to pick up women. All the while, he’s only there in the first place because he’s watching his kid play on the monkey bars.”
In capturing the flawed character, Toler hopes to delve deeper than surface level. He aims to force the audience to consider Jack’s actions; his desire for escape. The real challenge for the role will be effectively generating a tinge of sympathy for the character.
“I don’t condone his response to this feeling, and I’m not a father or a husband,” Toler tells. “But we’ve all been in situations we feel suffocated by—be it relationships or jobs or financial commitments. So, I can certainly relate.”
By contrast, Harrison will portray the earnest Phil. Desperate to find a woman, Phil operates under the assumption that after receiving a degree and getting a job, marriage remains his only task. White-picket-fence dreams generate a relatable character. Social norms and status-quos often result in unfillable voids and existential crises. Phil perfectly embodies the trope. Unlike the other characters, he’s honest—at least he thinks he is. He fully believes everything he says, even if it’s delusional.
“I find it hard [for people] to see this show and not see [themselves] in every character at least once some point,” Harrison elaborates. “It’s very relatable that way. I’ve had moments where I’ve been a Jack, Don or Phil, and that’s where the humor comes; the whole idea, ‘I’ve been there.’ It’s terrible when it happens to ourselves and hilarious when it happens to others.”
The show’s simple blocking will permit minimal confusion in the intimate Browncoat Pub and Theatre. Primarily composed of characters sitting and having conversations, it will rely on wit rather than grandiose physical humor. Smith takes the play’s simple setup as a cue to focus on performances and truly ensuring each character hits their beats.
Thematically dealing with the notion of growing up, the set design will feature repurposed children’s toys. Smith, Toler and Aaron Willings collaborated on bringing the set to life. “Boys’ Life” takes place in modern times, so wardrobe will be contemporary.
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace Street
Thurs.- Sat., June 12th-15th, 19th-22nd, 26th-28th, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 15th, 22nd, 5 p.m.