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Wednesday, January 25,2012

Head games

'The Boy in the Bathroom' simply doesn't wash, despite sweet love story

by Paul Wozniak

Imagine the question “to be or not to be?” stretched into a 90-minute musical, and you have the essence of “The Boy in the Bathroom.” The Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. cast and director Chad Badgero make the most of their simple staging of Michael Lluberes’ underdeveloped script. Combined with Joe Maloney’s meandering musical score, “Bathroom” fails to resonate, despite the cast and crew’s best efforts.

The story is simple enough. David (Ben Cassidy) is the boy in the bathroom, although he’s not really sure why. He’s been in there for an entire year, aided by his enabling mother, Pam (Judith Evans, who filled in for the previously cast Colleen Bethea), who slides flat food under the door. Enter Julie (Emily McKay), who helps with housecleaning after Pam falls and injures herself. From there, David and Julie slowly morph into two young lovers, separated by a thin door and thick layers of neuroses. 

David explains that he’s composing his master’s thesis on rolls of toilet paper. But Cassidy looks and acts far younger than a college graduate. Cassidy’s strengths as a singer outweigh his abilities as an actor, as he emotes very little in his face and body. While David admits to virtual paralysis at the beginning, singing “I don’t know why I’m in here, but I’ll figure it out,” Cassidy often appears to translate his character’s indecision into an uncommitted performance. 

Cassidy fares far better alongside McKay, who effortlessly turns her two-dimensional irreverent, Zooey Deschanel–type character into a smart, emotionally grounded person. McKay may only be in high school, but she displays great maturity and determination, delivering wry one-liners with ease. When David and Julie first meet through the door, Julie drolly inquires, “Are you your mother’s sex slave?” That prompts an emphatic “no” from David. The story may be simple and the songs silly, but David and Julie’s romantic chemistry feels natural and engaging, providing the show with its primary momentum.

Sadly, that momentum wanes when Evans takes the stage. As the overbearing and insecure Pam, Evans delivers a passable performance from the script — she took over the role with barely a week’s preparation. Understandably, as a result, Evans still seems disconnected from the character she plays. Her dialogue hints at deeper complexities that Evans has yet to portray. 

The play’s greatest detriment is Lluberes’ own unresolved issues with his home state. Lluberes graduated from Okemos High School, but his characters David and Julie take multiple opportunities to refer to Michigan as a trap, fantasizing about fleeing as soon as possible. While the caustic words alone do not invalidate their feelings, neither character ever articulates any specific reasons for their disdain.

David and Julie curiously cannot quantify any real reasons through dialogue or song. In fact, the songs are the least articulate aspect of the play, both in word and melody. Regardless of the actors’ combined vocal talents, the overall lack of memorable melodies dampens any strength the show has as a musical. 

At its best, “Boy in the Bathroom” is a sometimes cute love story based on very familiar premises. At its worst, Lluberes´ script is an under-edited, ambitionless musical stuck in the head of its writer.

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