My Freakin Kick-A Adventure in Berkeley #aclockworkfreak (Review)

With Troublemaker, playwright Dan LeFranc has created an altogether new universe, with unique words, hipster expressions, and a lot of, well, a lot of... freakin freak.

At Berkeley Rep, Gabriel King, Chad Goodridge and Jeanna Phillips star in the world premiere of Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright.
In Review

Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright

5 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars - 'Outstanding - Starkie!'
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Starring Matt Bradley, Chad Goodrige, Gabriel King, Ben Mehl, Jeanna Phillips, Jennifer Regan, Thomas Jay Ryan, Danny Scheie, and Robbie Tann
Written by Dan LeFranc
Designed by Kris Stone (sets), Paloma Young (costumes), Alexander V. Nichols (lights), and Jake Rodriguez (sound)
berkeleyrep.org
Review by
At Berkeley Rep, Gabriel King, Chad Goodridge and Jeanna Phillips star in the world premiere of Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright.
At Berkeley Rep, Gabriel King, Chad Goodridge and Jeanna Phillips star in the world premiere of Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright.

Troublemaker, or the Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright is a whopper of a title. It’s also a whopper of a play. Holy scat! It’s a larger than life two-and-a-half hour extravaganza that left me freakin exhausted. Narry a kouchebag in sight. Or a crotch for that matter.

The skattage to my brain is yet to be tallied.

Suffice to say, spanks to Berkeley Rep for bringing this delightfully imaginative play set in the 19mighties (with at least one reference to the 19scurvies for good measure) to the stage. If this is the kind of material we can expect out of Berkeley Rep’s new works center then we’re in store for years of top tier productions.

How on earth to describe Troublemaker?

On the one hand it takes us inside the overly active imagination of Bradley Boatright, a seemingly normal — if slightly neurotic — twelve year old. In his world, he’s a super-hero with a sidekick named Mikey, a genius who likes to use his mathematical powers to create wanton havoc at the school yard (and, for the record, shuns the sidekick reference, preferring “partner”). Pint-sized Loretta rounds out the fab trio and is seemingly freakin awesome at sourcing intel on various sundry goings on amongst teachers, parents and students alike.

What really makes this play work, however, is the language. Call it a Clockworkfreak.

All would be pexy in the world if it weren’t for super rich Jake Miller, master of the arcade, who owns a boat you know. Unlike the misfits from working class Rhode Island, he was born with two of everything – two tuxes, two “portable” 80s cell phones, and even two sidekicks. Why on earth is he masterminding a conspiracy to set-up his dad with Bradley’s mother in an effort to create some sort of boyfriending-girlfriending thing?

MORE: Berkeley Rep coverage

Then there’s the domestic reality. The one where mom (Jennifer Regan) does everything to please her confounding 7th grader — including offering to buy him a “GoBoy” if she’ll go with him to the mall — only to fail miserably in her efforts to shower him with love and attention. A fatal car accident involving Bradley’s father could hold the key to her son’s inability to socially connect with his schoolmates, and blame his mother.

Cartoon caricatures superimposed with a harsh reality intertwine to create a fascinating presentation. What really makes this play work, however, is the language.

Call it a Clockworkfreak.

Playwright Dan LeFranc has created an altogether new universe, with unique words, hipster expressions, and a lot of, well, a lot of… freakin freak. The first act immerses us in a 19mighties version of a world where super-hero Bradley is trying to evade Crotchs, A-Holes, homeless people (pirates with rats on their shoulders), Nazis, his Mom and flamboyant nemesis Jake Miller – all by hatching a plan to escape from Rhode Island and head to French Canada (“the wild, wild West of the North, North East”).

By the middle of the play, though the actors are speaking English, it’s really some new variation of Freaklish, and remarkably we’re totally in tune with its cadence.

SEE: Stark Theater: On Location at Berkeley Rep, SJ Rep, TheatreWorks, A.C.T.

Ben Mehl, Matt Bradley and Robbie Tann.
Smell the (Nintendo?) glove: Ben Mehl, Matt Bradley and Robbie Tann.

There’s a twist, and the rare play structure (three acts, two intermissions) affords a good bit of effective, creative whiplash. Aren’t we just architects of our own circumstances?

Performances are spot on – something I’ve begun to take for granted when headed to Berkeley Rep. In particular Gabriel King in the lead role is flat out phenomenal. There’s a solo scene later in the play involving some creative physicality that is simply outstanding. Ditto his arch enemy Jake Miller played by Robbie Tann. Here’s a slick villain you want to root for – he’s got all the best lines, suave delivery, and a generous heaping of mischievous like-ability to make us savor his every scene entrance.

Troublemaker is about as good as it gets; a fresh, innovative production that sparks the imagination. Despite its comic book pretense there’s a sharp, no-holds barred edge to the writing. Ultimately we’re reminded that we don’t necessarily need to flee to French Canada (Poutine, hockey, syrup and all) to find meaning in our lives.

Now, being that this is Silicon Valley, I need to get back to some good old squealmaking.

Troublemaker-Notes-Berk-Rep-clinton-stark

San Francisco Bay Area Arts and CultureStark Naked

  • A-Holes and Such – Ridiculous is about the only reaction I can imagine many had after reading this script. It’s the kind of material that I suspect needs the delivery. And context, however fantastical. Case in point: “I’ll rip off your breadstick and shove it up your Olive Garden.” It probably comes off flat in print, but put it in the hands of a actor in command of timing, body language, and — boom — 80s zinger.
  • Trading cards – look for the Troublemaker trading card set. In my press kit I got Bradley Boatright. Holy Scat! His “special ability”? Masterminding Bad-A Mother-Freakin Schemes.
  • Berkeley Rep commissioned Troublemaker in 2008.
  • Dan LeFranc received the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award for his play Sixty Miles to Silver Lake.
  • Can you spot the iconic yellow Sony Walkman?
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  • jennybean

    Wow, I couldn’t disagree more with this review. I *really* didn’t enjoy this production. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the same plot in a 1980s after school special. The “twist” at the end could not be more predictable. The language is clever but not *nearly* as clever as the playwright thinks it is. The joke of replacing profanity with rapid fire “fake swearing” becomes old. Fast. I actually like comic books and graphic novels, but there are very few moments that capture any kind of a “comic book” or “graphic novel” look or feel (in fact when you see those few moments, you’ll realize how much this production missed the boat). And there’s *zero* emotional resonance. The actors did their best, but it’s very hard for 20 and 30-somethings to portray kids in a way that doesn’t quickly become boring and annoying. The “baby” voices…ugh! I understand Berkeley Rep commissioned this show. Would that they’d had the guts to tell the “hot young playwright” that this was more appropriate for their theater school than their mainstage season. Performed by actual kids (who were allowed/helped to play with the script to give it an authentic youth quality) this could be a fun show by and for tweens. As it is, it’s more like watching adults act out the script from a Disney Channel special…

    • Thanks for chiming in jennybean, I think you raise some valid points – though I think the dialog and characters are a few notches above Disney Channel fare. Others may at least partially agree with your assessment, though – Karen D’Souza of the Merc called it “fab but flawed” and cited the fantasy/family drama combo as at least one perplexing aspect.

      This is what I love about theater: people react differently to material. What I especially appreciated about this work was the fantastical and colorful world playwright LeFranc created, replete with its own language and idioms. It left a lasting impression on this 80s highschooler.