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I Know What Boys Want

The powerful theme of the effects of cyberbullying runs through Penny Jackson’s play but the author’s anger leads to a good deal of melodrama.

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Lué McWilliams and Olivia Scott in a scene from “I Know What Boys Want” (Photo credit: Al Foote III)

Lué McWilliams and Olivia Scott in a scene from “I Know What Boys Want” (Photo credit: Al Foote III)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar] A very powerful and topical theme runs though Penny Jackson’s play, I Know What Boys Want, but the author’s understandable anger leads to a good deal of melodrama. Tackling the topics of cyberbullying, sexual double standards, and misuse and abuse of the social media are timely and provocative themes and deeply in need of public discussion. However, the play also takes on the topics of drug addiction, teenage drinking, same-sex marriage, date rape, effects of divorce on teenagers, SAT tutoring for rich kids, etc. While the basic story is absorbing, I Know What Boys Want tries to cover a few too many topics in its 90 minutes.

Nevertheless, the play is important for dealing with a topic that is not being taken seriously enough. Vicky Walker, a senior at the tony East Side New York Parker Prep, arrives at school to find a sex video of her and her boyfriend Roger taken at a party they were at the night before on everyone’s cell phones. Not only is it all over the school, it is all over the internet including a porn site. Both Vicky and Roger recall being drugged at the party and when Roger’s best friend Oliver brags about having taken the video with his cell phone, Roger guesses it was Oliver’s attempt to get revenge.

However, Vicky is the victim both because Roger’s face can’t be seen in the video and she is being called all kinds of names for what she thought was done in private, while Roger is suddenly very popular. Her friends are deserting her, her father and her step-mother won’t see her, and her feminist mother is freaking out. Vicky worries that this will jeopardize her chances to get into the college of her choice. When the headmaster suspends her while doing nothing to the boys involved, Vicky realizes she has to take matters into her own hands.

Performed in 15 short scenes requiring set changes between each scene, I Know What Boys Want is really a film script rather than a play. One unresolved plot development is that Vicky and her mother seem to think that if Vicky confiscates Oliver’s phone it will all be over, not taking into consideration that he has most likely stored the video on a computer. Not only is the play overloaded with additional teenage problems, but the characters talk obsessively about the sex video in every scene as though there is nothing else to discuss. Each scene offers something worse than the previous one so that the play feels heavy and wearying with so much information and so many plot developments to process. While the characters mention that by next week something else will be the trending item on Twitter, they behave as though Vicky’s situation concerns them 24 hours a day.

Alex Esola and Jesse Shane Bronstein in a scene from I Know What Boys Want (Photo credit: Al Foote III)

Alex Esola and Jesse Shane Bronstein in a scene from “I Know What Boys Want” (Photo credit: Al Foote III)

As directed by Joan Kane, the large cast is uneven, though part of that is caused by unresolved questions in the writing. Olivia Stone’s Vicky is filled with righteous anger but she is totally passionless in a role that calls for a gamut of emotions. In the thankless role of her mother, Lué McWilliams is described as an “old-time feminist” but as played she is simply old-fashioned and behind the times. Kelsey Wang as Lin, one of Vicky’s closest friends, has the needed acid tongue but her dialogue does not sound up-to-date. Charlotte Frøyland is fine as the school pariah who is too sincere and honest for her classmates, but it is never explained why she goes out of her way to dress in a manner that will cause her classmates to laugh at her.

The actors playing the male students in the cast are somewhat more successful. As the villain, Jesse Shane Bronstein exudes the menacing arrogance of the privileged who feel that they are entitled to do whatever they what. As Vicky’s boyfriend, Alex Esola combines the confusion he finds himself in with the fallout of the video as well as reveling in becoming an instant superstar. Alexander Nifong as Ted, a transfer student from Santa Cruz, a surfer dude, is fine as an upright young man appalled by the events at his new school. However, he is saddled with Bermuda shorts and pink ribbons in his hair which are never entirely explained.

David Goldstein has found ways of hiding various pieces of furniture in his unit set but has not solved the problem of the 14 necessary set changes. The costumes by Caitlin Cisek are fine for the students in their school uniforms, but rather unsuccessful with the other outfits, partly required by the script. Jim Marlowe’s projection design is the most effective element, giving us a taste of what Vicky’s classmates are continually texting. The fight choreography by Al Foote III is exactly what is required.

Due to its theme, I Know What Boys Want is both timely and provocative. Unfortunately, the many short scenes and the attempt to cover too many teenage problems all in one story dilute its effectiveness. The play needs another rewrite in order to reach its potential as an important work.

I Know What Boys Want (through August 2, 2015)

Ego Actus

The Lion Theatre at Theater Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-230-6200 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (992 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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