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Stage play tells coming-of-age tale set locally

‘B.F.’s!’ at Slipstream Theatre Initiative in Hazel Park starting Sept. 5

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 2, 2015

HAZEL PARK — When award-winning author and playwright Frank Anthony Polito wrote his novel “Band Fags!” and set it in his hometown of Hazel Park, he didn’t know that one day it would be performed there as a play.

This is the third time that the novel, winner of the 2008 Best Fiction Award from the InsightOut Book Club, has taken the stage. The first time was when SNAP! Productions in Omaha, Nebraska, produced it in June 2012. Next, the play made its West Coast debut at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco in September 2013.

Now the play is coming to Hazel Park, with many familiar references for residents. It’s been renamed “B.F.’s!” and will be shown at Slipstream Theatre Initiative, 20937 John R Road, Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 5-27, and Fridays, Sept. 18-25. Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets cost $12, in advance only. 

A two-man, single-set play, the show has been renamed “B.F.’s!” so that the actors — a high school student and a college freshman, both from West Bloomfield — can promote it in more places.

Polito says the new title works on multiple levels, since “B.F.’s!” can also stand for “best friends” or “boyfriends.” The tale is set in Hazel Park circa 1984-88, when two high school students, Jack and Brad, realize they’re gay and must figure out how this affects their friendship.

“The play is set in Jack’s bedroom,” Polito said. “Whereas the book goes to the school and parties at friends’ houses, and on trips to gay bars downtown when they’re underage, the whole point of the play was I wanted to write an intimate story in this intimate setting. When they’re in the bedroom with the door closed, they can talk about things that they can’t talk about in the outside world in 1985. They can’t be at a coffee shop talking about cute boys, since boys didn’t talk about that back then. But there are references to a majority of all the other characters, and there are references to those scenes where they go to a gay bar or the party at someone’s house. It’s just that, unlike a film, we don’t see all of that.”

Polito said he saw Jackson Abohasira and Maxim Vinogradov — the actors for Jack and Brad, respectively — in Slipstream’s previous play, Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” That play closed out Slipstream’s first season, and now “B.F.’s!” is headlining the second season. Polito said he was very impressed with both actors.

“If you had told me, ‘I’m going to have these high school kids in your play,’ there’d be a part of me wondering if they’re mature enough or talented enough, but in the rehearsals I’ve gone to, I can tell they’ve been acting for some time, and they’re at a high level. So I have confidence,” Polito said. “Another thing about them, being their age, is they can relate to being in high school. But I’ve had to give them an education about life in the ’80s, since I have so many pop culture references in my script and my book. These guys weren’t even born at that time!”

Bailey Boudreau, the play’s director, said the actors have a strong grasp of the story’s theme.

“Part of the reason I wanted to use younger actors is, yes, in the ’80s, things are dated and you’ll know from the clothing and music, but the sentiments expressed are not just about coming out, but the struggle we have as high school students in any era, of just trying to find ourselves and trying to understand what it is to be different,” Boudreau said. “We all struggle thinking we’re the only ones who are different, and it’s very real every single day. It’s less to do with being gay, but more with self-acceptance and the struggle.

“The two boys playing these roles are straight boys, but they understand the content since they are high school age, so they are or have recently gone through things, of who they are,” he said. “It’s a very universal story of coming of age, which makes it relatable to people who are 15 now or 50 now, or whether they’re gay or straight.”

“B.F.’s!” will be shown at Slipstream Theatre Initiative, 20937 John R Road, Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 5-27, and Fridays, Sept. 18-25. Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets cost $12, in advance only.