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Review: Zeitgeist Theater is back in town with ‘The Boys Room’

The play runs through Jan. 28.

DNT review
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I got an email on Thursday asking me to review “The Boys Room,” which opened Friday night at Zeitgeist Teatro. I went online and bought a ticket, and saw the cast had three instantly recognizable names in Duluth theater: Ellie Martin, Jody Kujawa, and Zachary Stofer.

It also has Reagan Kern, who was Little Allison in “Fun Home” (remember “Ring of Keys”?).

The title and the roles the cast played were all I knew when the play started and I think you should show up the same way because sometimes, finding out what the play is about should be part of the journey.

Not because the reviewer is trying to hide the twist that the detective is the killer or that it was not grandpa’s ghost who appeared but actually grandpa who escaped from the hospital, but because realization is ultimately much more delicious than recognition.

When you can be enthralled by what you are seeing on stage because every moment is a revelation, it is rather exhilarating. There came a moment in “The Boys Room” where I thought to myself: That is it. That is the end of this play.

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And it was.

And that is the experience I think you should have.

[At this point you should go see the show, and then come back and read this review afterwards. You can only find it online, so it is here forever.]

Welcome back.

The set up for “The Boys Room” is fairly simple. Susan (Martin) already has one son, Tim (Kujawa), who has moved back home and into his own room, and now her other son, Ron (Stofer), wants to do the same. Eventually, Ron’s daughter, Roann (Kern), shows up to ask questions and demand explanations.

For me the theatrical touchstone for “The Boys Room” is “A Delicate Balance,” only Joel Drake Johnson’s play is funnier, more profane, more accessible, and packs more of an emotional impact that Edward Albee’s play.

The opening scene belongs to Martin, whose abrasive exasperation is a joy to behold, even if her pronunciation of Spanish is not up to the standards of artificial intelligence.

Nobody uses profanity like Kujawa. We are not talking about the lofty elegance of Samuel L. Jackson when he goes on an obscenity-laced tirade, we are talking about repetitive slap-in-the-face profanity. Which makes it delightfully surprising when Tim turns out to be the heart of the show, especially when he waxes eloquently about reading “Jane Eyre” so he can have an intellectual discussion with his daughter.

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It was interesting to see how quickly Stofer’s Ron loses our sympathy in this show, while Kujawa’s Tim has the opposite arc. The key defining element of Stofer’s performance is how often he turns away from both the person he is speaking to and the audience so he can say what he needs to say. Stofer is up to the challenge of having to make the dialogue work with only his voice.

Kern makes Roann a mercurial figure, constantly in motion, her face and voice constantly shifting, like she was spinning the dial to find the right station on the radio, desperate to find the proper frequency to communicate with her father, only to discover they are on completely different wavelengths.

That being said, I thought Kern’s best moment was when she has to stand there and listen to what her dad has to say. Stofer — again — keeps his back to her for most of his speech, which allows us to focus on the devastating impact his words have on his daughter.

This parallels Martin’s final speech as Susan, which is also delivered with her back to the people she is talking to.

Face to face communication is painful, people.

P.S. When director Mary Fox came out before the show and was all excited that this was Zeitgeist’s first theatrical production since October 2021, I immediately flashed back to newly sworn-in President Gerald Ford telling us “Our long national nightmare is over.” Then I started playing Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town,” in my mind because that is how it works.

Welcome back to the land of live theater, Zeitgeist.

If you go

  • What: “The Boys Room” by Joel Drake Johnson
  • When: Zeitgeist Teatro, 222 E. Superior St.
  • Tickets: Jan. 21 & 26-28 at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 22 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Info: $25 at Zeitgeist Arts (easy-ware-ticketing.com)

Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the Duluth News Tribune.

Related Topics: THEATERDULUTH
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the Duluth News Tribune.
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