Boys Town, the orphanage and home for wayward youth, must certainly be ripe for a more realistic presentation than served up in the famous 1938 Spencer Tracy pic, and Barnaby Spring would seem a likely choice to do the presenting. The 32-year-old actor/writer lived at Boys Town throughout the 1970s, ascending to the lofty position that gives his one-man show its title –“The Mayor of Boys Town.” But like too many politicians, Spring lets his ambitions foul up his better intentions.
After a brief prologue in which Spring introduces both himself and Boys Town to the audience (easily the most charming portion of the show), the performer in the man takes over to portray five fictional Boys Town alumni: an investment banker whose career crisis triggers painful memories of injustices at Boys Town; a drugged-out stripper who recalls being raped by another Boys Town denizen; a killer on death row who had been shipped to Boys Town after years of abuse by his father; a priest inspired by the famed Father Flanagan but now suffering a crisis of faith; and a saloon singer who can’t seem to cope with life post-Boys Town.
Obviously, Spring doesn’t know from quiet desperation. His characters and their situations begin as compelling concepts but careen into the overwrought. His writing tends to the self-consciously literary and his acting is heavy with emoting.
That said, hints of real talent lurk throughout. The playwright crafts each portrait with skill, even when the raw material that makes up the characters’ lives is lacking. As an actor, the darkly handsome Spring has an intensity that, harnessed by a surer director, could create real theatrical sparks rather than the forced fireworks on display here.
Too bad, though, that Spring tackled his Boys Town past before he was ready to do it justice. It’s a subject that deserves more than an actor’s stretching exercises.