Bradley Boatright is not a superhero, but he'll make you believe he is. The protagonist of Dan LeFranc's new play, Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright, is a 12-year-old growing up in "working-class Rhode Island" in "nineteen mighty-four," when portable phones are still very large and seen as a status symbol. He refers to getting dressed (with some help from his mom) as "suiting up" and calls his dad's death the most significant part of his "origin story." Most importantly, he has a nemesis: a sneering rich kid from "business-class Rhode Island" with a couple of Slurpee-sucking goons.
But something's not right. When Jake Miller isn't picking on Bradley's best friend or challenging our hero to a videogame battle royale, his fiendish master plan seems to come down to matchmaking between his divorced dad and Bradley's mom. Also, Bradley's kind of a jerk, lashing out at his mom and really any sort of authority figure. To put it in comic-book terms, is he friend...or foe?
Berkeley Repertory Theatre's world premiere of Troublemaker is pretty freakin' kick-A. It's the first show to hit the main stage from the Rep's new play development lab, The Ground Floor, which kicked off last year with a bustling summer residency. Director Lila Neugebauer's beautifully paced staging makes the play's two and a half hours (with two intermissions) seem to fly by.
The superb cast is mostly shipped in from New York, although a few have played Berkeley Rep before. His squeaky kid voice takes a little getting used to, but Gabriel King has marvelous intensity as Bradley, and the elaborate streams of fake cussing he rattles off are hysterical. But the hero is always the least interesting character; it's his supporting cast that makes it work. Chad Goodridge is endearingly dweeby as his best friend and conscience Mikey Minkle, who wears a World War I flight helmet and chafes at being called a sidekick, particularly because he's black and Bradley's white. Jeanna Phillips is a preteen femme fatale as Loretta Beretta, a budding hard-boiled detective bursting with snappy patter. ("Right now you need to shut your St. Francis and move your Assisi.")