Troublemaker, or the Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright
It’s not often that something comes along as fresh, captivating, and chock full of pre-pubescent energy as "Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright." Nor is it usual for audiences to see the world of a 12-year-old portrayed with such insight, empathy, or verve.
But, with this world premiere, written by acclaimed young playwright, Dan LeFranc, and directed by Lila Neugebauer, the Berkeley Rep delivers a rollicking comic book inspired adventure that, despite a few unnecessary detours and saggy scenes, remains funny, engaging, and wonderfully imaginative through its emotionally satisfying end.
Commissioned by the Rep, Troublemaker tells the story of Bradley Boatright (played with captivating conviction by Gabriel King), a boy with an imagination as big as his appetite for trouble. Growing up in working class Rhode Island during the "nineteen-mighties," raised by his struggling mom, Bradley’s organized his life around the one piece of his history that makes him special-the tragic but heroic death of his dad.
Like most 12 year olds, he has difficulty distinguishing shades of gray when it comes to life, relationships, or problems. He lives in a world peopled by cartoonish villains, his only allies his best friend -- or, as Bradley prefers to call him, his "sidekick" -- Mikey Minkle (portrayed as charmingly vulnerable by Chad Goodridge) and the wisecracking firecracker, Loretta Beretta (the fiercely funny Jeanna Phillips).
Bradley’s stark world view begins its unraveling when his pals discover some "intel" suggesting that the father of his arch-enemy (spoiled rich kid Jake Miller) might have a romantic interest in Bradley’s mother. Naturally, our hero must prevent this calamity, protect his mother, and save the day.
Along the way, he has to try to take down Jake, escape the clutches of the Nazi lookalikes who run a nearby youth detention center, run for the wilds of French Canada, and battle a band of homeless pirates for a cup of quarters.
It’s a delightful romp made more delightful by the superb performances of the various bad guys. As Jake Miller, Robbie Tann is a charismatic nemesis with a wonderfully wicked cackle, while his goons (A-Hole #1 and #2) are played with surprising nuance by Matt Bradley and Ben Mehl.
Danny Scheie is hilarious as Sturgis Drang, the delinquent-turned-Nazi after his stint of "correctional" therapy. And while Jennifer Regan turns in a stellar performance as Bradley’s exasperated mother, Patricia Boatright, Thomas Jay Ryan is a treat as the stuttering Principal Putters who’s clearly out of his depth when it comes to controlling Bradley’s antics.
A considerable part of "Troublemaker’s" charm is LeFranc’s clever and playful adaptation of language to evoke the tweens’ liberal use of expletives and sexual innuendo. He also provides his characters with a plenitude of witticisms that remain consistent with adolescent preoccupations while taking the audience deeper into their young worlds.
But in the end, it’s the way that LeFranc and the players make the audience so fully empathize with Bradley’s flawed thinking that is Troublemaker’s greatest achievement. It takes us into a twelve-year-old’s mind and, remarkably, makes everything understandable.
And while there are certainly moments where the play loses some of its zap, it has more than enough kick-ass energy to keep you enthralled until the end.