THE BASICS: THE BOYS UPSTAIRS, a 2009 comedy by Jason Mitchell presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Todd Fuller, starring Jonathan Beckner, Zachary Bellus, Jeremy Catania, Ricky Needham, and Daniel Torres continues through November 23, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (adjacent to Shea’s Buffalo Theatre) (886-9239) www.buffalounitedartists.org Runtime: a touch over 2 hours with one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Advance publicity quotes a review from The Village Voice: “Hilarious! Sex and the City meets [The] Boys in the Band” (referring to the groundbreaking 1968 play about gay men that won a 2019 Tony for “Best Revival”). That’s not a bad summary. But for “Sex and the City” you could substitute “The Golden Girls” or “Friends” because at the end of the day, this play is all about friends. Having met as freshmen assigned to the same dorm suite their friendship, unlike so many college relationships, continues after graduation.
Social media influencer-wannabe Josh, a trust fund baby, shares a fabulous Manhattan apartment with underpaid schoolteacher Seth who wants a committed relationship with an older, less flamboyant, man, and, at the opposite extreme Ashley prefers variety (a lot of variety) in his lovers as he crashes on the convertible sofa. They drink a lot of cocktails, they go out on the town, they worry about their careers and their futures, and they’re all about relationships – long term, short term, and just what ARE the terms? When their new neighbor Eric, who has just moved into the apartment below, knocks on the door with his beard and Marlon Brando undershirt asking to borrow a tool, the boys become twitterpated.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: If the dialog seems particularly snappy, that could be in part because NYC based Jason Mitchell has a “day job” as a wedding-planner and is, in fact, the author of Getting Groomed: The Ultimate Wedding Planner for Gay Grooms. If anyone would be on top of what’s in and what’s out, at least how it was in 2009, I’d say it would be Mr. Mitchell.
If it helps to calibrate this play in your mind, it’s a little like the television series from the late 80s – early 90s, “The Golden Girls.” Seth, played by Jeremy Catania, is a little like Bea Arthur’s Dorothy, a teacher with a generally disapproving demeanor who has some firm opinions on what is right behavior and what is wrong. Ashley (yes, that’s a guy), played by the gymnastic Daniel Torres, is like Rue McClanahan’s Blanche, also a Southern belle always looking for the next sexual adventure. And perhaps it’s a stretch, but Josh, who at first presents like the competent young professional, is a bit like Betty White’s Rose, more confused by life than the others seem to be.
Playing Eric, the quiet, hunky, hairy guy from downstairs whom the boys find macho because he actually knows how to use tools, is the well-cast Zachary Bellus.
Playing Eric, the quiet, hunky, hairy guy from downstairs whom the boys find macho because he actually knows how to use tools, is the well-cast Zachary Bellus. On a stage with four other handsome younger actors, Bellus appears, as he has been required to be in other productions (BUA’s SIGNIFICANT OTHER or JRT’s LOOKING THROUGH GLASS) quite good looking.
There are a number of charming touches in this play. Here are some:
Similar to Jenn Stafford who received a thunderous ovation in the middle of SGT’s THE TOXIC AVENGER when she played two characters simultaneously, Ricky Needham totally owned a scene in THE BOYS UPSTAIRS as one of Ashley’s one night stands – the date who could only communicate with snatches of lyrics from Broadway musicals. From A CHORUS LINE to LES MIS to WICKED to, I soon lost count, perhaps 50 other musicals, all the while leaping across furniture and commending the entire stage, Needham, with his beautiful tenor voice, gave a high wire act, both thrilling and hilarious. And the audience reacted the way I gather audiences at earlier performances reacted – they loved it – and I’m sure you will too.
Other “fun” moments are when Needham plays five other one night stands, each time waking up next to Ashley, on the convertible couch, to the tune “Morning Mood” (from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite”).
Josh creates spur of the moment drinks for his friends (all ending in with “tini”) named after the occasion du jour in the same way that the character Jessie makes up a daily pie to match the situation in the Sara Bareilles 2016 musical WAITRESS.
It’s one of the many little traditions that the roommates continue that make this play so appealing.
Director Todd Fuller moves his actors around the stage convincingly and the scene and costume changes are handled smoothly by Stage Manager Carly Weiser (who recently directed BUA’s BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS).
This is a fun play from beginning to end, performed by a somewhat younger cast, and you can meet them, after every show, at the traditional BUA ‘meet and greet’ in the lobby.
A note on the locale of the play: “Hell’s Kitchen” on Manhattan’s West Side from 34th to 59th which decades ago was a rough area (and was the setting for the musical WEST SIDE STORY) nowadays is more noted for Lincoln Center, gentrification, and expensive apartments. Don’t let the name fool you.
This is a fun play from beginning to end, performed by a somewhat younger cast, and you can meet them, after every show, at the traditional BUA “meet and greet” in the lobby. Yes, other theaters do a meet’n’greet on opening night but even then after a long wait standing around, yet the BUA way is to have the actors appear almost immediately after the curtain.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!