More than any other Fringe show I have seen over the last couple of years, The Boy In the Basement epitomizes what I think this festival is all about. It successfully manages to walk the line between serious and ridiculous; it employs a mode of storytelling that is unique (though not revolutionary) and thoroughly effective; it has a cast that is young and attractive with just the right amount of crazy thrown in for fun; and, most importantly, it has a director that has assembled all these pieces into a finely woven, immensely entertaining play that is not only very funny, but also manages to take a few unexpected turns on its way to leaving you...well, if not exactly moved, then tingly.
When a play is good, the less said the better. I walked in not really knowing what to expect and I think that is the best way to experience a play, especially one that is relatively uncomplicated from a plot standpoint, and one that intends to toy with audience expectations. I deny the play the opportunity to toy with your expectations if I tell you what to expect. Right?
Right. So, suffice to say, I really liked this play. The idea isn’t necessarily groundbreaking (what is these days), but that is okay because it is sweet and fun and masterfully executed. The cast is uniformly exceptional – each member of the ensemble has found a way to maximize the camp quotient without sacrificing any of the emotional truth necessary to keep the play from becoming frivolous. The staging is perfect for the mood and style of the play and venue, while at the same time feeling somewhat clunky and spontaneous…which worked to the play’s advantage so I am assuming it was intentional. But maybe not. Who cares? There is a keyboard accompanist too (no, its not a musical) who provides musical interludes. I am not sure what it adds, but it adds something. Music, I guess.
This play is an example of when the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, but equal to it. It demonstrates that you can successfully mount a play that toys with theatrical conventions and audience expectations without sacrificing the basics – plot, conflict, humanity, vulnerability – and you can do it with a wink and a smile. And isn’t that the whole point?
The Boy In the Basement plays at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam between 6th and Varick. Show times: Thursday, August 21st at 11:45pm; Saturday, August 23rd at 10pm. Visit theboyinthebasement.com or fringenyc.org for more info and to purchase tickets.