Barrington Stage’s “Boca” Offers World Premiere Laughs All Night Long
Barrington Stage Company is producing the show for all the people who say what they want when they go to the theater is “they just want to laugh.” “Boca,” a World Premiere by Jessica Provenz, directed by BSC’s Artistic Director Julianne Boyd is a laugh-filled, character and relationship driven collection of twelve blackout scenes set in a gated community in Boca Raton Florida. Men are in scarce supply as we are told explicitly, The Royal Palm Polo Club membership has 400 women and 105 men.
The men talk about their cars, golf, and how much they don’t miss shoveling snow. The women go to extreme measures to get a man or to escape the ones they have. All six actors play dual roles which are great for the cast and the audience. I’m still trying to reconcile that the same actor played the two parts that Gilbert Cruz took on.
The most inspired scenes have the indispensable Debra Jo Rupp (“Becoming Dr. Ruth”) as a retired kindergarten teacher, Susan, who wants her girlfriends Elaine (Peggy Pharr Wilson) and Janet (April Ortiz) to play poker for the rights to her husband after Susan has passed away. She extols his strong qualities; he holds the door and your chair, he’s a doctor (“Well, a podiatrist.”) and he’s very rich. His bad qualities? He’s compulsively flatulent. “You don’t want to stand downwind of him on taco night.” As you can see, the playwright has no shame going anywhere for a laugh. Best of all though, is the character trait given Susan of using pre-school tactics to command attention. Both in this scene and in a surprisingly moving campaign speech opening the second act, Susan will exhort her audience and us “Eyes on me! Eyes on me!” and when that fails put on a hand puppet and chant in a funny voice “Everybody Hocus Pocus, I need your focus!” Rupp is delightful as Susan and has a great contrasting role as the burgeoning free spirit Iris, who takes a septuagenarian, Thelma & Louise, larking trip to amusement parks in her electric car with her partner-in-crime, Louise played by April Ortiz.
Another great scene has Peggy Pharr Wilson’s Elaine showing up unannounced on a condolence call to Kenneth Tigar’s Bruce. She’s brought her special lasagna made with double cream and four different mushrooms, knowing that his fridge is full of half a dozen dishes from other importuning women. He politely declines, having already eaten, when Elaine pulls out a gun and screams “Now sit your damned ass down and eat my lasagna!” Pharr Wilson is terrific all evening and this may be my favorite thing I’ve ever seen her do. She’s all coy solicitousness until she reveals the ferocity of the survivor who bought the Glock 9, “It’s good for my arthritis.” You absolutely buy Bruce’s terror and softening enough to be tempted by her pasta Bolognese. My favorite line of the evening might have to be Peggy opening the bottle of Merlot and purring “I hope you like a full-bodied red.”
Another great scene has Gilbert Cruz’s Luis going to great lengths to hide Susan’s state as he wants her to win the election in three days and believes he can do that best by keeping her hidden. Everyone has shown up for Yom Kippur and after joining together, Robert Zukerman’s Rabbi Wolberg blesses all “A time to say goodbye to all that’s past and look ahead to a week of peace.” It’s a dark acknowledgment.
I had a great time at BSC’s “Boca” and laughed all night long. There are more than a couple of laughs per page and the energy and high spirits carry through into the bright, beautiful and fun setting (Brian Prather), costumes (Jen Caprio), lighting (David Lander), and sound design (Alexander Sovronsky). The scene changes happen quickly and actors dance on and off in full view lending the whole evening a party atmosphere. At one point a character talks of the great virtues of “Community, neighborliness, kindness.” This is all great but the problem with community is that it’s made up of other people. What’s missing from the play are the people who make community difficult, if not impossible. Among the twelve characters portrayed here, even a Glock is not a serious impediment to a second date. Now, what if they were unvaccinated or didn’t believe the results of the last election? It is somewhat mystifying that a comedy, set in Florida, premiering in 2021 has as its greatest antagonist an offstage candidate who wants to fertilize your lawn with chemicals.