Teen Actors Are Totally Convincing In 'BFs!'

Maxim Vinogradov (Brad) and Jackson Abohasira (Jack) star in the coming-of age tale "BFs!" at Slipstream Theatre Initiative in Hazel Park. Photo: STI

I have to hand it to the young actors who are currently starring in "BFs!" – the impressive two-hander at Slipstream Theatre Initiative in Hazel Park. For almost two hours, the story unfolds in a bedroom that's in a performance space barely the same size as the living room inside my typical 1950s suburban ranch (yes, that small!), where Maxim Vinogradov (Brad) and Jackson Abohasira (Jack) must age their characters four years while struggling to come to terms at their own speeds with their sexuality – all while performing mere inches away from the 28 or so voyeurs sitting quietly around them.
Even the most seasoned veterans of the stage would find such a scenario a bit intimidating. But these two teenage performers (one a senior in high school, the other a college freshman) understood the need to "keep it real" – that is, to not play to the back of the house, but to act as naturally as one possibly can in a setting that demands total intimacy of its performers.
The result, then, were performances that seemed so real and so authentic that it was easy to forget one was watching a play – but instead were peeking in on private conversations between best friends since seventh grade.
Although I was not there in an official capacity, I nonetheless found myself looking at the play through the eyes of a critic. In particular, I kept close watch on the reactions of each actor when he wasn't the one speaking. Did noises and movement in the room distract him? Was he totally "into the moment" and truly listening to the other actor? Were his eyes connecting with those of his fellow actor? Because the slightest deviation could ruin the moment in such an intimate performance space, how successful were these boys – these young men – in sustaining their characters throughout a two-hour span of time, I wondered?
Only once did an actor break – albeit for a second, and so did many in the audience – thanks to a door that unexpectedly slammed shut in the back of the house. (Did someone leave the room, I wondered?) For the rest of the time, these actors performed a miracle: They transformed themselves into Jack and Brad, alone in Jack's bedroom, sharing their experiences, their hopes, their dreams and their fears as only best friends can.
Because I'm familiar with the source material – the play is based on a book, the autobiographical "Band Fags" written by Frank Anthony Polito – I entered the theater curious how Polito took a novel with a plethora of interesting characters and whittled it down to only two people. Would anything important get lost in the translation? Would it get boring hearing about these other folks rather than watching them tell their own parts of the story directly to us?
Not at all. In fact, the story unfolded quite well, with the boys filling in whatever information was needed for us to understand who everyone was and how they related to the plot. If there was anything important missing, I sure didn't detect it – nor did I hear anyone asking plot-related questions as they left the theater. (You can often gauge the potential success of a show or lack thereof by eavesdropping on audience comments after a performance, and in this case, everything was positive. However, it should be noted that many at Saturday night's performance were friends and neighbors of Polito's, which might skew their reactions. Heck, I even discovered that one of his neighbors is an old friend I hadn't seen in over a decade, which made the night even more special!)
For a show that was a last-minute addition to the Slipstream schedule, Polito should be quite pleased with the results. (It was the Michigan premiere – but not for the lack of trying: He had shopped the script around town for quite a while, but with no bites.) And director Bailey Boudreau should be equally proud of his production. His insightful eye kept the emotions real, his set was a perfect replica of Polito's childhood bedroom, and his use of the limited space kept his audience engaged in the production at all times.
(In all honesty, it probably kept some of us TOO engaged – especially me, who was evicted from my original choice of seats when I got up to say hello to my long-lost friend, only to ultimately end up in a musical-chairs-like scenario in which I was left with one of the few seats still available when the show began. So where was that? Right next to Jack's desk and wall calendar, where I found myself pretty much rubbing shoulders with him at the start of many scenes, and where at one point Brad was at my feet with a lit candle holding a s¬éance. Luckily for me, my ancient stage training kicked in, and I stayed deathly still whenever the action was close by so that I wouldn't steal the focus. It was tempting, though, to blow out that candle…)

Show Details

Slipstream Theatre Initiative
20937 John R. Road, Hazel Park
$12 in advance
8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25
8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, Oct. 3
7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27, Oct. 4