The Horror Honeys: Dead Boys: A Hollywood Fringe Festival Review

Dead Boys: A Hollywood Fringe Festival Review

A Hollywood Fringe Festival Review with Horror TV Honey Kat Wells

Photos courtesy of Matthew Scott Montgomery
For the last four years, actor and writer Matthew Scott Montgomery has been surprising L.A. theatergoers with his specific brand of Kevin Williamson-esque whip-smart drama with a sprinkling of gut-wrenching terror thrown in for good measure. His Spook Night event has sold out every October that it’s been in production, and despite occasional forays outside of the spooky (the holiday-themed Merry Christmas, Bitch and Fuck Valentine’s Day were personal favorites of mine), Montgomery always works his way back to darker themes. In Dead Boys, his offering to the Hollywood Fringe Festival this June, the personal horrors his characters grapple with are rivaled by literal monsters at the door in a play that is an eye-of-the-storm meditation on forgiveness, race, sexuality, and religion.

Starring Matthew Scott Montgomery and Andrew Puente, Dead Boys follows a simple enough story: It’s a few weeks into an apocalyptic nightmare (though it’s unclear exactly what happened, we eventually become aware that there is something horrific stalking the streets at night). Two young men are trapped in the basement of their old (Christian) high school, avoiding whatever’s outside waiting to tear them apart. One was the only gay kid in school, and the other is the guy who used to beat him up. Forced together in this terrifying new world, they must learn to navigate landmines from their past, cope with their present, and fight to reconcile themselves with an uncertain future. Montgomery plays Levi, a wide-eyed and frazzled but charming 20-something gay kid who is beset upon as the play begins by Carter (Puente), every bit the foil for Levi: hyper-masculine, violent, and angry.

Dead Boys is very simply staged, and it kind of has to be. After all, with 2,000 performances of 375 different shows going on over the course of the Fringe Fest, multiple shows often use the same theater in one night, making it likely you’ll see actors hauling set pieces to their car as the next troupe loads in. But every piece of scenery in this show, every book, every piece of scribbled-on furniture and beloved smooshed-up Twinkie is loaded with emotional weight and purpose, and Montgomery and Puente vibrate around all of it with dizzying energy. Montgomery’s Levi is full of the kind of manic, self-effacing grit that comes from years of having to be brave in the face of a society that doesn’t understand him, a skill that has clearly become useful in this strange apocalypse. And, even considering how frightening Puente can be as the prickly Carter, it is somehow delightful to watch the two characters bounce off each other.

Both actors make smart work of shepherding audiences into the world of Montgomery’s particular brand of dialogue, which is sometimes like listening to another language. At first it can feel difficult just to keep up, but the unapologetically rich slanguage (and actors that are able to pull it off; full disclosure: I’ve performed Montgomery’s work and can attest to how difficult it is to learn and execute) manages to keep the audience on their toes without being alienating.

Dead Boys is a deeply painful piece of theater that shows us we can always find a safe place in human connection, even when there are literal monsters at the door. It’s unafraid to be baldly emotional, but it couldn’t be further from your typical drama, and offers much for the horror fan who is willing to exercise a little patience: this is a show that reels you in, drowns you in the story, and then when you least expect it, reminds you with a jolt that there's a reason it's called Dead Boys.

Dead Boys was the winner of the City of West Hollywood Scholarship for One City One Pride. If you weren’t able to catch Dead Boys at Fringe this year, you can still get a taste for some of Matthew Scott Montgomery’s work: Listen to Dead of July, a Fear Street-esque thriller about murder, secrets, and the dead heat of summer. Or watch Trent and the Dark and Stormy Night, a Spook Night scene that was turned into a short.