Review: Boys from the Burbs (The Empty Room)

Photo from Boys from the Burbs

The latest play from The Empty Room explores young suburban life in Toronto

Suburbs often get a bad rep as the place fun forgot. When you’re young, cash-strapped and don’t own a car, there’s not a lot of fun to be had – especially compared to life in the big city. Following the tale of four young boys, Boys from the Burbs (The Empty Room) shows us that not all is as it seems behind the cookie-cutter picket fences and seemingly dull façade of a suburban town.

While this play follows the tale of the four boys collectively, they also each have their own unique arc based on the stereotype/archetype they represent. Each character has his own personal victories and losses, which gives this piece a well-rounded story structure.

Angelo (Wayne Burns) is the hopeless romantic who’s in love with his school French teacher. Daniel (Michał Grzejszczak, who is also this production’s playwright) is the idealist. Upon hearing the plight of the Zapatistas – a militant Mexican guerrilla group determined to fight the perceived injustices against the Chiapas people – he decides to run away from home to join the group. Next up is Cameron (Mitchell Janiak), the egotistical video game guru who stakes his entire worth on his button mashing skills. Rounding out this motley crew is Victor (Andrew Merrigan), the goofy nice guy who falls in love with the most awkward girl in school.

Sure, these plot lines are somewhat cliché. And you’ve probably seen them in at least a few of the many teen rom-coms that graced silver screens during the late 90’s and early 2000’s when this piece takes place. The progression of the individual story arcs is also somewhat predictable, with very few plot twists to change the pacing, leaving you with the feeling that you’ve seen it all somewhere else before.

The real strength of this play, however, was the acting.

Main performers Burns, Janiak, Merrigan and Grzejszczak, shared an onstage rapport that’s a treat to watch, playing effortlessly off of each other without missing a single cue. And while there were no weak links in the performance, these were two actors who definitely stood out for me.

Burns is a show stealer, coming across as very likeable and relatable. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a comedic soliloquy as epic as his left-at-home-alone love letter scene. My other nod for the night goes to Mercedes de la Zerda who played the supporting role of Madame Beauleu – the school’s French teacher and object of affection of Burns’ character. Able to credibly play a much older character than she is, de la Zerda provided the much needed stern contrast to the other happy-go-luck cast.

While Boys from the Burbs isn’t a ground breaking piece, it is a feel good piece with quite a few make-you-smile moments. Despite its predictability, it manages to hold your attention by transitioning between ludicrously funny commentaries on how absurd high school can be sometimes, and sincerely heartwarming moments between this group of friends.

I saw a lot of potential here and honestly believe that with a little bit of tweaking from this up and comping playwright, Boys from the Burbs could become a very memorable piece.


Photo courtesy of The Empty Room