The brutal, relentless comedy of The Boys

The Quickie: The Boys is not a feel-good drama, an easy date night play, or a relaxing evening. However, it is outstanding acting and thought-provoking theatre.

There are some movies I refuse to see. I will not see Saving Private Ryan — the Second World scenes, I’ve heard, are way too realistic. I will not see Seven, as my students have told me “it will hurt your soul.”

And I refuse to see the fourth Indiana Jones movie, as I’d like to remember Indy in his best light.

It’s okay not to see a movie that you don’t want to see. It’s not your thing. It may be too scary, too shocking, too stupid.

We have choices of what we want to endure because a play or a movie makes an unspoken agreement with the audience. It says, “Stay right there and pay attention. I’m going to say something interesting, important, entertaining.”

And the audience agrees to stay and wait; depending on how good the content, we may be able to endure a great deal of rough stuff.

Which leads me to the first Guild Theatre play of the new season, the first produced by the Guild’s new artistic director, Katherine McCallum. She chose this because it is dark comedy – serious themes, funny moments.

The Boys makes its Canadian debut here in Whitehorse. It had a run in Philadelphia, but Kris Elgstrand is Canadian, and he came up to Whitehorse to see his play premiered on his native soil.

The play takes place right after a funeral, so you already know the stakes and emotions are high. Donny (Jason Westover) and Desmond (George Maratos) have come back to their childhood home to see what’s left for them after their father dies.

Their mother died long ago, when the boys were kids. Their father married again and Margaret, this new woman, still lives in the house, bereaved and exhausted after the funeral, and surprised to find that Donny and Desmond want to stay at “their” house.

Westover does a good job of hiding Donny’s insecurities inside bombastic behaviour. Maratos plays his mentally challenged brother, Desmond, wanting to move on to a place where he is accepted and where he accepts others.

He is at the house to find the last remnants of his mother, a small ceramic figurine.

Donny is there to assert his authority as the eldest son — and get back a bit of the life he lost when he was forced out of the house in the wake of his father’s new marriage. Donny is trapped in the past and keeps pulling Desmond there.

Every scene with Donny is loud; when Des is with him, he has to yell to get his brother’s attention. These two boys communicate by long bouts of shouting — which is difficult to endure.

When Mary Sloan first appears, she is quiet, and the audience sighs with relief. But she won’t stay that way. Donny is strong enough to pull even this exhausted woman into his frustration with himself and the way his life has gone.

She wants them gone — to have some peace. But there is no peace until Donny is satisfied and the audience realizes that Donny may never be satisfied because what he wants is gone.

Maratos is an awesome child/adult — his behaviors increasingly erratic, his understanding decreasingly reliable. He’s unaware that Donny and Margaret are using him to get their way.

This is not an easy play for Brad Dryborough to direct. He has to balance the intensity, the fights, with the heart-wrenching slow revelation of truth. The audience on opening night was exhausted at intermission. Many looked for the relief of silence, others joked.

Everyone agreed it was strong acting; everyone agreed it was a tough situation. Dividing up a person’s life, making peace with your past, fending off interlopers — those are energy-sapping activities.

There is comedy, some of it very uncomfortable. And you find yourself laughing at the most inappropriate moments. I remember a big roomful of laughter and then Mary Sloan burst into tears, and I felt ashamed that I had misread the moment.

It is a dark comedy, and some will see the comedy as helping them bear the darkness of the play. But it is a grueling, tough experience. I won’t lie.

Still, everyone went back in after intermission for Round Two.

By the end of the play, the cast has all their boxes turned upside down. And the audience looked just as disheveled. But this is a remarkable ensemble cast, stellar acting — able to pull off a beautiful, horrific, emotional battlefield of a play.

You will enjoy it, but bring your hazmat suit, just in case.

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