Saturday, February 13, 2016

Review: Big Boys

In the comedy "Big Boys," it's the boss against the world. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews from Montgomery Theater in Souderton

Review: Big Boys

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Pete Pryor is the rotten boss, Jefferson Haynes is his foil in "Big Boys" at Montgomery Theater in Souderton. Photo by Bill Papula.

By Howard Shapiro

You’ve never had a boss as excruciating as Victor. And my guess is that even if you are a boss, and your staff thinks you’re a moron, you can’t come close. (I know, you’re a great boss, you’ve told the staff yourself.)

Victor is the boss, one of two characters in Rich Orloff’s play Big Boys, the amusingly dumb and strikingly well-performed production now at Souderton’s Montgomery Theater, with one of the region’s most seasoned actors, Pete Pryor, as the boss. The other character is young, newly hired Norm, played by Jefferson Haynes, also seen on several area stages.

Through two comic acts, they play against one another — the worst in American business culture and the about-to-be just as bad: a newly minted business school grad who comes to Victor’s corporation with only a textbook understanding of the real world.

What that corporation does — well, I’ve seen the show and I don’t know. Neither do Victor and Norm. It doesn’t matter. Big Boys is not quite traditionally absurdist — it has an obvious plot without a hint of symbolism — but it’s absurd nonetheless, in a Marx Brothers sort of way.

“Do you think the ends always justify the means?” asks the boss to his young trainee.

“Absolutely!” says the kid, eager to please.

“You’re coming along nicely!” the boss shoots back.

Or, says the boss, “Give them a bonus and deduct it from their salaries.”

“I already have.”

“I’m so proud of you!

Orloff’s play is not as much a running joke as it is a running method of joking: Boss is slimy, underling calls him on it, Boss takes that as a compliment. Variation: Boss is slimy, underling is slimier, Boss beams with pride.

It’s funny, but there’s no let-up in tone — Big Boys is extreme from first to last. It would become lame, a play with solid form but no real content, were it not in such fine hands.

Pryor, who directs and clearly knows what he wants from the script, portrays the boss with a playful menace that provides a nice tension throughout, making the play more than two hours of one-liners. Haynes is aptly vulnerable at first, but as he morphs into his superior, even his face seems to change to fit his new role.

Big Boys may be saying something about American business or the concepts of ethics and values, greed, corruption and free enterprise. But I can’t get a serious thought out of it. For me, it’s a fine-tuned study in silliness, and with clever word play. And that’s enough.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,

Big Boys: Presented by Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton, through Oct. 8. Tickets: $29-$35. Information: 215-723-9984 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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