by Richard Dodds
There are slice-of-life charms and amusing evocations of 1980s pop culture in Frank Anthony Polito's play Band Fags! At least, there are at first. But as New Conservatory Theatre Center's production presses on, it becomes discouragingly apparent that the slices of life being evoked have minimal dramatic arc, and that Polito seems determined to cram in as many period pop-culture references as possible for their easy laughs.
The play takes its title from Polito's novel about Jack and Brad, BFFs who first bonded in their junior high school band, and their forward march to high school graduation as they skirt around their sexual identities. In a recent interview, Polito said the play is 90% autobiographical, adding that, "Sadly, my life isn't as interesting or dramatic as Jack's."
Sadly indeed, for one is hard-pressed to see Jack's life as interesting or dramatic. He lolls about his bedroom covered in posters for Duran Duran, Ghostbusters, and Pac-Man while watching soap operas on his Betamax. He seems to be gay, but maybe he isn't, but then again maybe he is, but not necessarily. With his buddy Brad, who knows he's gay even though he thinks Judy Garland was assassinated, the social minutiae of their school life are examined in agonizing detail. In the end, the characters have only marginally moved from where they started.
So how do you fill two hours when so little is happening? Recurring exchanges along the lines of "Shut up" followed by "No, you shut up" may help (or hinder). But credit goes to Blake Doris as Jack and James Arthur M. as Brad for largely mastering dialogue that flows at a torrential rate in director Stephanie Temple's production. That the actors are clearly grownups creates an awkward aura of developmental challenge in what looks like girlishly childish behavior.
Maybe a spoiler alert is due here, but the big reveal of the final scene is summed up in this bit of dialogue: "How could we be so dumb?" No further comment will be offered here.
Band Fags! will run through Oct. 13 at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Tickets are $25-$45. Call 861-8972 or go to nctcsf.org.