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Theater Review: The Good Boy Tells His Story

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Was the word "bittersweet" coined to describe autobiographical-confessional solo theater performance pieces? For as surely as youth leads to adolescence and then adulthood, so are once-close personal ties inevitably frayed as our protagonist embarks on a journey of self-discovery that leads him away from his erstwhile loved ones. By the end, however, the accumulation of mature experience casts those early-life relations in a new light and inspires, if not an actual rapprochement between the performer/narrator and those he left behind, then at least his reflective re-embrace of the times they shared and the influences he realizes never quite shook off completely.

Michael Bonnabel's new one-man show, The Good Boy, at the Bootleg Theatre follows this familiar trajectory most engagingly. In 1960s Pasadena, young Michael was one of five children in a household with two deaf parents. Somewhat by the default of his older siblings, Michael at a very early age became the go-to child for his mom and dad, helping them navigate the complex world of bank loans and doctors' offices, thank you letters and community social events. Bonnabel skillfully recreates the fears and embarrassments, as well as the indignities, that arose from his dutiful fulfillment of these responsibilities. At the same time he lovingly but unstintingly portrays his clingy mother and obstinate father as well-meaning but difficult personalities, largely unaware of the burdensome demands they constantly imposed on him.

What elevates most of this material above run-of-the-mill pathos are Bonnabel's effective and well-timed reenactments of all the scenes from his life he presents. His imitations of his parents are most moving when he exudes the various shades of observed emotional turmoil that they never express. Both during his early years as a "good boy" and, later, when he struck out on his own, Bonnabel's life never seems to have been easy. But to his considerable credit his account of it all is nothing like a complaint.

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Bonnabel isn't working with much in the way of a set on the Bootleg stage, but director Mark Neeley keeps the story moving forward at a salutary clip.

The Good Boy runs this weekend and next at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Boulevard. Friday and Saturday performances at 8, Sundays at 3 (Sunday performances with ASL interpretation). Tickets available for $12.00 on LA Stage Tix, $13.50 on goldstar.com. Full-price tickets $23 ($14 for students and seniors) available via the Bootleg web site.