By May S. Ruiz
‘Good Boys,’ the psychological thriller from playwright, Marvel comics author, and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa will have its Los Angeles premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse from June 26 to July 21. Starring renowned television actress Betsy Brandt in the role of Elizabeth Hardy, it is helmed by off-Broadway and regional director Carolyn Cantor.
Set in 1988, the play tells about Brandon Hardy, a high school senior at St. Joseph’s Prep who has the world at his feet. Handsome, athletic, and smart, he is a model student after the mold of his father. But when a pornographic videotape becomes the talk of the locker room, he gets caught up in a media explosion which threatens to shatter the Hardy’s comfortable life. ‘Good Boys’ is a riveting drama that delves into what happens when a family must separate fact from fiction and, ultimately, choose to either preserve a legacy of privilege or risk losing everything in pursuit of the truth.
During a recent phone conversation, Sacasa discloses the genesis and the current iteration of the play. “It was inspired by a real scandal that broke out at my alma mater. It’s a work of fiction, but it has parallels to what had actually happened and that I personally knew about. The title was originally ‘Good Boys and True,’ which comes from the prep school’s motto and is quoted in the play. It premiered in 2008 and was performed at several regional theatres but has never been on a major stage until now. I hope this West Coast debut at The Playhouse will give it the wider exposure I believe it deserves.
“Danny Feldman (Pasadena Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director) was looking for material that was relevant to what’s been on the headlines recently – specifically the college admissions scandal and the Bret Kavanaugh nomination process. My husband, who has been involved with the Playhouse, brought my play to his attention. So we sat down to discuss how we could update it and one of Danny’s first suggestions was to rename it ‘Good Boys.’ I resisted it at first, but as I worked on the rewrites, it did start to feel more and more like a new play, so I came around to the title change.”
Aguirre-Sacasa describes, “The dramatic situations in this play are uncannily similar to incidents and issues that we’re still grappling with in this country – viscerally – even more so than when I first wrote it. In revisiting the play, I further explored themes like privilege, masculinity, and personal responsibility, as Brandon and Elizabeth find themselves on trial by their community and each other. ‘Good Boys’ is a sort of moral thriller, a game of cat and mouse between a mother and her son, with twists and turns that will keep you guessing about the truth right up to the end.”
While the actions of Brandon and his gay friend Justin drive the plot, the person who finds herself most affected by the scandal is his mother Elizabeth who, at the start of the play, has spent a lifetime doing the right thing – being a good doctor, thinking of herself a good mother, and questioning how to be a good wife.
Asked why he chose to make Elizabeth the central character in ‘Good Boys,’ Aguirre-Sacasa responds, “I thought there could be a little more psychological complexity in the mom’s journey through the play. A teenager is still developing, still figuring out their place in the world. An adult, presumably, knows their true self by that point. That said, I feel like both characters are compelling, it’s just that one is answering for sins done in the present, the other for sins done in the past.”
Originally from Washington, D.C., Aguirre-Sacasa attended Georgetown University where he studied playwriting. He received his Master’s degree in English Literature from McGill University, and earned an MFA from Yale School of Drama.
While Aguirre-Sacasa wrote plays early on in his career, he is also an avowed comic book reader. His semi-autobiographical play about a comic book writer and playwright was staged in 2006 at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. His theatrical work converged with comic book writing when Marvel hired an editor from a theatrical agency to find new writers and she called him.
Marvel signed him on for the ‘Fantastic Four’ and Aguirre-Sacasa’s first story was published in 2004. That was followed by more ‘Fantastic Four’ stories in ‘Marvel Knights 4’, ‘Nightcrawler’ vol. 3, the ‘Sensational Spider-Man’ vol. 2, and ‘Dead of Night featuring Man Thing.’
In 2013 he created ‘Afterlife with Archie’ which proved to be such a success that he was named Archie Comics’ chief executive officer. The book was also the inspiration for the television series ‘Riverdale,’ which he developed, and is now on its 4th season.
Additionally, Aguirre-Sacasa has written episodes for ‘Glee’ and developed the series ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.’ He has gained a wide following among young people, whom he describes as very passionate and vocal about what they believe in. Twelve years ago he came to Los Angles to work on a television series. He discovered he truly enjoyed being here and decided to stay.
He manages to successfully move from one genre to another but Aguirre-Sacasa confesses that he has the most fun writing suspense thrillers. He expounds, “I enjoy writing in different genres – horror and stories about teenagers, for instance – but I love psychological thrillers because they are, essentially, character pieces. You put a character in a charged, dangerous situation, you turn up the heat, and you watch what they do. Will they crack under pressure? Will they lie or tell the truth? How will their actions define them? That’s true of most genres, of course, but with a good, juicy psychological thriller like ‘Good Boys,’ you get to do a deep dive.
“I don’t judge my characters, I keep them true to themselves,” he adds. “And I don’t impose my own expectations on what my audience should take away from the play. Each one will have a different experience based on where they are in their lives. That said, I’m a big believer in stories having beginnings, middles, and ends, so I think that ‘Good Boys’ does offer some resolution, though the mom and son have started their next journey. Their story with us – their trial with us – is over. Their story with each other is continuing.”