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Letter from the Artistic Director on Good Boys and True.
2007-2008, Volume 2
by Martha Lavey
Good Boys and True continues our season-long conversation about what it means to be an American. We began that conversation with an American classic Arthur Miller’s profound meditation on a community under the siege of fear. The historical perspective of The Crucible permits us to examine our contemporary America with two earlier moments in our country’s history: the 17th century setting of the play; and the moment of the play’s writing, 1950s America.
Good Boys and True is, by contrast, a new play—you are seeing its world premiere. The playwright, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has set the play in 1980s America, in a world of cultural privilege. The play centers on the Hardys—a family in which both parents, Elizabeth and Michael, are doctors, and their son, Brandon, is a popular and accomplished 17-year old senior at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School for Boys in Washington, D.C. By setting the play in Washington, we are invited to see the Hardys as emblematic Americans—denizens of our nation’s capital who are socially and politically engaged. This impression of the Hardys as American representatives is amplified by Michael’s work as a member of a surgical team traveling the globe to dispense medical care to those in need. The playwright’s ironical grace note—naming the family the “Hardys”—is expressed in a conversation between Brandon and his friend, Justin, as they invoke the iconic American reading series, The Hardy Boys. Indeed, Brandon and his friends, “good boys and true” in the motto of St. Joseph’s, are Hardy boys, young American heroes.
What does that mean? To be a young man, a young American hero? In the investigation of the play, the story of the American-boy-hero is a vexed narrative. On the one hand, St. Joseph’s, breeding ground to these “good boys and true,” provides a passport to good universities, profitable social networks, and opportunities that allow these “good boys” to move gracefully into the world of their parents. These young men are expected to achieve and improve upon their families of origin. On the other hand, the social and cultural corridor that St. Joseph’s provides is narrow and demands conformity. The assumption of that environment is that the young boys of St. Joseph’s have the same aspirations as their parents: a life in the professions, a marriage and family, a lifestyle of economic privilege.
Good Boys and True interrogates what happens when that assumption is inauthentic. What if one does not—or cannot—share the goals of one’s parents? What happens to a young man when his own sense of self—however unformed and as-yet mysterious to him—is at odds with the identity his parents and peers assume of him? Brandon Hardy is 17 years old: how much consciousness and courage can be expected of him? How free is he to own his own narrative of self and how much is he a captive of the legacy that his social situation produces? How much do his parents bear the responsibility to mentor a path for their son that they themselves find unfamiliar and, perhaps, threatening? In a sense, the play is asking, “what happens when the script that we have been handed for our lives is disrupted?” The play suggests further that our character (the true fiber of our being) is revealed when we confront that disruption and face the unexpected, the unfamiliar and unknown.
Part of what Roberto achieves in the play is to create a narrative that takes an unexpected turn. Just as the characters of Good Boys and True encounter the unexpected, the audience to the play is treated to a twisty narrative: the play surprises us, secrets are revealed (that take the pulse of the characters of the play—and their character) and that take the measure of us, the audience, in our empathic identification with the people of the play. For this reason—because surprise plays a thematic role in the play—it would be unfair of me to reveal too much of the play’s plot.
Something that you may want to be tuned to as you watch the play is how Roberto has provided each of the characters in the play a double. For each of the characters in the play, the playwright has provided a near-character (who either appears in the play or is spoken of in the play) and who provides a mirror, an image of the road not taken. For Brandon, it is his friend Justin; for Elizabeth, it is her sister, Maddy; for Coach Russell Shea, it is his schoolboy friend and Brandon’s father, Michael; for Cheryl Moody, the high school girl in the play, it is Brandon’s girlfriend, Erica. In a play about the choices we make that determine our character (choices that may require us to break the script of our lives), the double serves as an image of the parallel life—the life that might be ours should the accidents of birth or the exercise of choice alter the known path.
We elected to produce Good Boys and True in our season about what it means to be an American because it provides such a keen interrogation into our American dilemma. As Americans, we deeply value the idea that we are in authorship of our own lives. Part and parcel of our championing of independence and liberty is a conviction that it is possible to be a self-made man or woman in America. The dilemma obtains when we encounter the passport of privilege: social and cultural situations tend to reproduce themselves. To be born into privilege is to be given the tools to replicate that privilege. How does our conviction about our independence square with our experience of social class?
The further inquiry of the play is: what does social privilege permit and what does “social privilege” constrain? Does having a path provided by high cultural capital (economic comfort, a caring family,a good education) welcome or inhibit our individuality? What is required of us if we choose to own our own lives?
The choices you have made in your life are not necessarily the ones you will witness in the play. But I will make bold to say that you have faced choices that asked the same questions. You inherited a script for your life—a set of values and expectations and cultural allegiances that you were, explicitly or implicitly, asked to inhabit and replicate. The script may have been handed to you with all good grace and loving intention—it may, very well, be who you want to be. But what if it wasn’t? What if it isn’t? What if you couldn’t occupy the role
expected of you? What did you do? What are you doing? And how free do you feel to break the narrative? How free do you feel to author your own life?
Questions of individual liberty, of choice and responsibility, played out against a backdrop of social and economic permissions and constraints, are very American questions. Good Boys and True examines a moment in each of its characters’ lives when character is forged.