Writer and director Erica Schmidt caught the attention of the theater world more than a decade ago with her musical parody of the ’70s porn classic Debbie Does Dallas. Fast-forward to the present and her new play All the Fine Boys, presented by The New Group in the Signature’s intimate studio space and running through March 26, is drenched in ’80s pop culture, but the comedy is dark, uncomfortable and fleeting. What begins as a coming-of-age tale of two precocious and eager fourteen-year-old best friends, Jenny (Abigail Breslin) and Emily (Isabelle Fuhrman), becomes a disturbing cautionary tale.
The two girls spend their free time in Jenny’s basement watching horror movies her mom rented (remember that?) for them and talking about older boys. It’s questionable if the play would pass the Bechdel test, but that’s kind of the point. Boys and sex are a mysterious frontier that they are eager to explore, so their conversations have a way of leading back to crushes and rumors they’ve heard. Schmidt has a knack for writing dialogue that flows with ease and Breslin and Fuhrman deliver it with aplomb. It’s as if they have too many excited thoughts and questions to fit into their time together.
Schmidt captures the precarious limbo between childhood and adulthood: they dig into candy and Pringles with the unrestrained enthusiasm of kids on Halloween while wondering what semen tastes like. “She said it tastes like bleach and banana and Hawaiian tropic,” Jenny tells Emily of a conversation she had with a more experienced classmate. As desperate as they are for experiences, the girls have a keen awareness for the fleeting nature of time. “I don’t really want to get older? I mean I want to get out of middle school, and I really want it to be summer…” Jenny tells Emily after she reminds her of her upcoming birthday, the question mark in her tone punctuating her ambivalence. “I know what you mean. Like, sometimes I think, we’ll never ever be younger,” Emily responds.
Because she’s developed large breasts at a young age, Emily has to weather mean-spirited anonymous phone messages calling her a “slut.” Her crush is a high school senior, Adam (Alex Wolff), who is equally precocious but with many more answers than questions about life. As they hang out, their relationship dips into the sexual realm with a little making out and groping, but he turns down her offer to give him her virginity for his birthday because he realizes the weight this carries and that he would be taking advantage of her.
This stands in stark contrast to the man Jenny meets at her father’s church party. Joseph (Joe Tippett) is 28 and loves the Bible while failing to grasp its most basic principles. He is charming on the surface, and Jenny instantly falls hard but to quote a line from Into the Woods: “Nice is different from good.” What transpires between them is horrifically haunting and continues to unsettle long after the play has ended but reeks of the heavy-handed touch of an after-school special. I left the theatre wondering if the carnage is necessary? But then I thought when something terrible happens, that’s usually a question we ask.
Written and directed by: Erica Schmidt
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Joe Tippett and Alex Wolff