BWW Reviews: CATF 2014 - NORTH OF THE BOULEVARD Is an Authentic Comedy About Middle-Class Conflicts
Written by Bruce Graham and directed by Ed Herendeen, North of the Boulevard is an enjoyable modern-day comedy with enough undertones of familial dysfunction and economic inequality to make the humor hit a little too close to home for many viewers.
North of the Boulevard focuses on one evening near Christmas in a small time auto mechanic garage. Trip, Bear and Larry all work at typical middle-class jobs while Larry's father, Zee, is retired and generally acts as the elderly pain-in-the-ass around the shop. The four male friends get together, as usual, to discuss day-to-day lives and jobs and dream about easier lives with more money, where they could move to a nice neighborhood north of the boulevard. When tragedy strikes, the characters are faced with a gigantic moral dilemma, pushing each man to his ethical limit and showing how much greed, corruption and the prospect of one hundred grand can change both a friendship and a life.
Michael Goodwin as Zee, the elderly father, was a fantastically crass comedic elderly man. Not a single one of his one-liners were politically correct or sensitive and he left the audience in stitches with his acidic dry wit. Easily the funniest of the four characters, Goodwin brought a genuine fatherly concern and true family dynamic in his scenes with his son, Larry, played by Jason Babinsky. Babinsky was adorable as nerdy retirement home worker Larry. His character voice, an enormous stretch from the actor's normal speaking range, was both impressive and hilarious. Babinsy and Goodwin made the dysfunctional father and son relationship completely conflicted and absolutely believable.
Jamil A.C. Mangan as security guard Bear gave a great performance. His booming baritone voice was very powerful and again, Mangan brought a total sense of authenticity to the role. His relationship with best friend Trip was completely believable and Brit Whittle as Trip was fantastic. His persona and performance as a down-on-his-luck family man and auto mechanic was remarkable and Whittle was perfectly authentic as the everyman character. Faced with the most challenging role out of the four actors, as both the heart and soul of the story and the moral compass, Whittle displayed a wonderfully compassionate and comedic touch.
The chemistry all four men had reacting with each other was phenomenal. All four actors were completely believable as life-long best friends in a small neighborhood and the comedic timing was perfect. The set also deserves special mention, as Trip's auto-garage was brilliantly detail-oriented and uncannily realistic. An actual automobile in the shop onstage was one impressive feature, as were the hundreds of minute details lending authenticity to the production.
North of the Boulevard was a comedic production; however, the comedy often stems from real problems affecting middle-class America today. Many of the jokes left audiences roaring with laughter, pausing and falling silent as they realized how true and unfair the remark was. When the characters are faced with the main moral conflict which drives Act Two, the dynamic changes frantically between comedic comebacks and one-liners to austere dramatic tension. A keen sense of timing and pacing was vital to this production and the four actors have worked out an incredible dynamic, with spot-on chemistry and timing under fantastic direction by Herendeen. For a wonderfully funny evening with a hard-hitting message about the middle-class in today's society, be sure to catch North of the Boulevard.
North of the Boulevard continues to run as one of the five plays in rotating repertory at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. North of the Boulevard performances occur at the Frank Center Theater on the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. The final performance occurs August 3 at 6:00 PM. For more information about the show schedule, the 2014 season or to order tickets, please visit www.catf.org.
Photo Credit: CATF Media Gallery