Troublemaker, Berkeley

Written by:
Suzanne Weiss
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‘Troublemaker, or the Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatwright’

Written by Dan LeFranc
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Berkeley Repertory Theatre (world premiere)
Jan. 9-Feb. 3, 2013

Remember when you were a kid and wanted to be anybody except who you were? And you needed your parents to be somebody else, too? Remember when you dreamed yourself into impossible adventures in order to escape from your inescapable life, and when the words you wanted to shout into the void were the exact words you weren’t allowed to say? If so, you’ll love “Troublemaker.”

Dan LeFranc’s very funny riff on being young isn’t just child’s play. At its heart is a tale of love and friendship and redemption that turns out to be the stuff of a grownup drama in the end. But on the way to that conclusion, it’s a comic book come to life, with an honest-to-gosh superhero, a couple of clever sidekicks, homeless pirates with parrots on their shoulders and a couple of Nazi kid-hunters. In the first two acts, half the time you don’t know if you’re looking at the real world or into the imagination of the hero — appealingly played by Gabriel King, who, although he has a number of New York credits on his resume, manages to make us believe he is 12.

Bradley Boatwright (notice the echoes of Dudley Do-Right in the old Bullwinkle cartoons) isn’t a bad kid; more like a good kid who does bad things. Grieving over the loss of his father, he acts out all over the place and imagines himself a superhero pitted against the forces of both adulthood — especially his mother, memorably played by Jennifer Regan — and the snotty rich kid Jake Miller (a hysterically funny Robbie Tann). Other notable characters are Mikey Minkle (Chad Goodridge), the nerdy sidekick who wants to be promoted to partner; the tough Loretta Beretta (Jeanna Phillips), the other sidekick who turns into a sultry temptress (every good comic book has one), Principal Putter, who stutters (Thomas Jay Ryan) and the shrink who sets Bradley on the path to reality (Ryan again). Danny Scheie, that indispensable Bay Area comic, is a little overdone as one of the Nazis but everybody else is right on the target. The cast is rounded out by Matt Bradley and Ben Mehl, who play the rich kid’s dimwitted henchman as well as assorted homeless pirates.

The playwright’s language is marvelous and the words that substitute for real swear words are both hilarious in themselves and kind of a send-up of a David Mamet show. The inventive set, by Kris Stone, with lots of doors to pop in and out of while eluding your enemies and a real telephone pole to climb, is great and well complemented by Alexander V. Nichols’ lighting. Paloma Young did the costumes, from young nerd-wear to pirate swash-and-buckle and then some.

It’s a long play, two and a half hours with two intermissions and, after howling your way through the first two acts, you might squirm a little through the more serious third act (still with funny moments) as our young hero makes the journey from make-believe to reality by learning to accept the things he cannot change. But stick it out to the denouement. It might even wipe the smile off your face and bring a tear to your eye.

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