There haven’t been this many young hormones on display since Warren Beatty failed to deflower Natalie Wood in 1961’s “Splendor in the Grass.” William Inge’s story of high school lust took place in the Roaring ’20s when such repression was common. Nowadays, writers have to go much younger, to middle school, to find their hungry virgins.
Jenny and Emily are 14 years old and into junk food, slasher movies, and getting laid for the first time. In Erica Schmidt’s new play, “All the Fine Boys,” which opened Wednesday at Off Broadway’s Pershing Square Signature Center as a New Group presentation, the two girls take different routes to losing their virginity.
Emily (Isabelle Fuhrman) has already fallen in love with an older guy, a high school senior (Alex Wolff), who might as well be Adam Driver and not just because his name is Adam. He knows it all and doesn’t mind sharing his knowledge with the overly eager and willing Emily. Meanwhile, Jenny (Abigail Breslin), addicted to bad food and movies, sets her sights on a much older man, the 28-year-old Joseph (the excellent Joe Tippett).
After an introductory pig-out scene with Jenny and Emily, “All the Fine Boys” quickly establishes its structure of alternating scenes with the two couples. Emily and Adam provide the far more predictable set-up, with her hanging on his every word because he’s three years older. Wolff’s performance goes a long way toward making these scenes less predictable. He finds a sly irony in the character’s cockiness, and there’s real confidence in his alternative good looks, which Emily’s parents would find scrawny.
The mark of Schmidt’s talent as a writer and a director, however, is other heroine. What intrigues about the Jenny-and-Joseph scenes is that Jenny appears to be the one in control, despite her virginity. She initiates the sex and knows how to work Joseph to feed her appetites for Pringles and shopping sprees at Walmart. Breslin deftly handles the shifts back and forth between manipulator and victim. In the end, her very graphic sex scene with Tippett reminds us of their gaping age difference.
Because their scenes together promise so much drama, we watch the other couple more out of goodwill than real interest, despite Wolff’s best efforts. He and Fuhrman are also stuck with a clumsy epilogue that explains everything and dumps on Adam, voicing the truism that all high school stars end up losers.
Schmidt also indulges in one bad shortcut that’s become a modern cliche in the theater. Reading the Bible or going to church does not automatically make one a villain.