Chicago Theater Review: GOOD BOYS AND TRUE (Raven Theatre Company)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 18, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Kelli Strickland, Maggie Cain and Will Kiley in GOOD BOYS AND TRUE at Raven Theatre in Chicago.Gay playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (contributor to Glee and Big Love) may have stumbled with his over-the-top dark comedy Say You Love Satan–produced in Chicago by About Face Theatre–but this Raven Theatre revival of the burning drama that Steppenwolf debuted seven years ago proves a rare skill: Aguirre-Sacasa can create solid stagecraft with a moral center. Strong but not sensational, the scandal at the heart of this drama–and its heart beats strongly indeed–is not earth-shattering. Nor is the TV-movie plot (a kind of opposite version of the Tyler Clementi tragedy) particularly groundbreaking. What distinguishes Good Boys and True from modern moral melodramas is its determination to show how class influences and often deforms character: Unearned privilege corrupts a personality as much as celebrity worship or overnight fame.

Karl Potthoff and Maggie Cain in GOOD BOYS AND TRUE at Raven Theatre in Chicago.In 2007 the cultural backdrop for the play was the sex scandal involving privileged lacrosse players at Duke University. Here the “1%” setting, much like the playwright’s own experiences at the toxically entitled Georgetown Prep, is Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School for Boys, an exclusive Jesuit prep school in 1988. A smarmily revealing videotape circulates through the campus. The metastasizing VCR supposedly depicts handsome, blond beauty Brandon Hardy, a senior jock from a wealthy family, having heavy sex with a minor who’s clearly unaware that her loss of virginity was being reduced to amateur porn. Brandon, pampered scion of renowned physicians, must answer to his mother Elizabeth, who demands to know whether he’s the boy in the tape and who the victim is. Meanwhile, Brandon’s coach tries to contain the uproar by temporarily banning sports, the lifeblood of a supposed learning institution.

Will this outrage out of Les Liaisons Dangereuses damage Brandon’s chances for Dartmouth, even though he’s a “legacy” certainty for admission? What about Brandon’s closeted and conditional devotion to his infinitely more honest buddy Justin Simmons? Are the sins of the father visited on the son?

Will Kiley and Derek Herman in GOOD BOYS AND TRUE at Raven Theatre in Chicago.

Actually, the main matter at stake in this Washington suburb is a bigger question: Does the fear of sexual exposure warp “good boys and true” into vicious users? It’s tempting to push the plot further. But it’s enough that Aguirre-Sacasa creates an adolescent hotbed of repressed eroticism, dynastic differences that fuel sexual manipulation, and a self-fulfilling family history of thuggishness in pursuit of power. The worst irony: To protect his privacy Brandon utterly destroys Cheryl’s, thus earning a special circle in contemporary hell.

Kelli Strickland and Maggie Cain in GOOD BOYS AND TRUE at Raven Theatre in Chicago.

Yet, balancing these soul-shrinking forces where consequences don’t matter is a kind of dogged decency. Matching the play in its second-act strength, Cody Estle’s at-time histrionic staging soars as it depicts Brandon’s mother (a steely, sometimes strident but galvanizing Maggie Cain). In a “tale of two classes” meeting, she visits Cheryl (Sophia Menendian), the much-wronged fast-food drudge in the videotape who was flattered, then ruined for any marriage, by this golden boy. This semi-incandescent encounter exposes the aching humanity of women from different backgrounds trying to do the right thing, characteristically cleaning things up after men have done their easy worst.

Will Kiley and Sophia Menendian in GOOD BOYS AND TRUE at Raven Theatre in Chicago.

The other performances hold their own in contrast to Cain’s unforced nobility: Pretty but not cruel, Derek Herman delivers a strong case for authenticity as Justin, Brandon’s confused special friend, an unspoiled preppie who simply wants to win on his own merits. As Brandon, a confidently good-looking Will Kiley never seems perplexed by this complex kid. His final breakdown is Brandon’s one true moment—but the anguish comes from being caught. When Brandon dismisses the collateral damage known as Cheryl (“She doesn’t matter” and “It wasn’t that bad”), you see a narcissist turning into a sociopath. No question, in 15 years he’ll run for Congress.

Derek Herman, Karl Potthoff and Will Kiley in GOOD BOYS AND TRUE at Raven Theatre in Chicago.

Happily, the context fixes any shortfalls in the individual work. Though it predates the even swifter video scandals that YouTube and the more pandering and persecuting websites can provide, Good Boys and True is strong enough to update, and improve on, Tea and Sympathy, where it’s far worse to be gay than to be falsely accused of homosexuality. Aguirre-Sacasa’s two acts of compassion show us our worst to help us to its opposite.

photos by Dean La Prairie

Good Boys and True
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street
scheduled to end on May 3, 2014
for tickets, call 773-338-2177 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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