Bradley Boatwright is in big trouble. The title character of “Troublemaker” has more on his mind than any 12-year-old kid in working-class Rhode Island should have to face.
In Dan LeFranc’s rollicking comedy, now making its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Bradley doesn’t really make trouble. He just attracts it.
He’s being bullied by the town rich kid, Jake Miller (a sneering Robbie Tann). Adding insult to injury, Jake’s dad (Thomas Jay Ryan) is courting Bradley’s single mom (Jennifer Regan) — and recommending that Bradley be shipped off to reform school.
Bradley (Gabriel King, perfectly cast) is already hyper, hormonal and a little hostile, and he responds to this adolescent stress by becoming an unlikely action hero — kind of a Batman for the Game Boy generation.
Subtitled “Or the Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatwright,” the play pops onstage with the bold cartoon color and splashy whiz-bang style of a graphic novel come to life.
Joined by his nerdy best friend, Mikey (Chad Goodridge) and wisecracking gal pal Loretta Beretta (Jeanna Phillips), Bradley embarks on a heroic quest. He’ll boost Jake’s boat, hit the road and head for the wilds of French Canada.
Director Lila Neugebauer makes the most of the setup, especially in the opening scenes. The action is well-written, fast-paced and funny, and the designs — Kris Stone’s kinetic sets, Paloma Young’s slacker costumes, Alexander V. Nichols’ lighting and Jake Rodriguez’s sound — are fresh and vibrant.
LeFranc’s script yields plenty of comic moments as Bradley and his friends run into unexpected snags — including a Teutonic school superintendent, and a camp full of homeless pirate zombie guys.
But the playwright undercuts the action. At two hours and 40 minutes (with two intermissions), the show starts to drag, taking a turn into heightened psychological drama that kills the comic buzz.
Still, the cast is terrific. King, Goodridge and Phillips make an engaging power trio; Matt Bradley and Ben Mehl excel as Jake’s dim-bulb sidekicks.
The always brilliant Danny Scheie pops up in several supporting roles. These actors, and the designs, make the Berkeley Rep production worth seeing.
With some judicious editing (and maybe one fewer intermission), “Troublemaker” could shape up as something even rarer — a well-oiled comic machine with plenty of heart.