Theatre Mirror Reviews - "SubUrbia"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark


by Eric Bogosian
Directed by David DelGrosso

Assistant Director/Fight Direction Ivan Hopkinson
Set Coordinator Nana Nakayama
Lighting Design by Ken Nero
Costume Design by Rachel Padula
Stage Managers Val Cohen, Sara Strahm

Tim.........................................Josh Rudy
Norman..........................Nathan Phillips
Jeff....................................Matt Freeman
Buff..................................W. Ryan Kipp
Pakeeza..................SiouxSanna Ramirez
Bee-Bee.............................Kate Hanavan
Sooze....................................Tina Farrell
Pony.........................Christian Michelsen
Erica..................................Kara Wenham

Eric Bogosian's monolog plays demonstrated that rage without an objective sets itself on fire. In "SubUrbia" he tried to put five unfocused raging dropouts together for an all-night parking-lot beer-binge. It is fascinating to watch the young actors of The Other Theatre try to bring these volatile match-heads to life on the small Actors' Workshop stage.

Supposedly a year out of high school and as yet into nothing, they vacillate between self-importance and self-pity, each with a different reason for not leaving their underclass existence in the nowhere town of Burnside. From the backdoor of the neighboring 7-11 Store the young Pakistani manager shouts at them to cut the noise, quit his property, and go home, but they have less to go back to than forward to so long as there's still some brews and some weed unconsumed.

It is harder for young actors to play "young" than to "be" young, easier to find postures and attitudes than consistent motivations, easier to steal the spotlight or merge into the intimacy of a dialog than to paint an ensemble portrait heading toward a common goal. This young cast's triumphs and weaknesses would all be different given more experience in the theater or more rehearsal time, or even a longer run. As it is, the pieces of each performance, and of the play, are much more interesting than the whole.

Each of the partyers insists they stay in SubUrbia because there's nowhere to want to go. Josh Rudy ("Tim") has been somewhere: a tour in 'Nam, though not in the jungles but as an Air Force techie. His goal is slow suicide, via alcohol, or quick via brawls he provokes. He is the cynical philosopher puncturing anyone else's balloon because his own is flat. He talks a great brawl, but rarely does the smoldering death-wish at the core of his every word shine forth.

W. Ryan Kipp (Buff) is a chunky, fluffy, pot-brained puppet bouncing through his own fantasyland of booze-broads-and-boo yet flinching nervously at every dirty-word he hears. He his so solidly into character than his essential ineffectuality never registers, and the ensemble gives him center-stage and watches instead of blowing him off as irrelevant.

Kate Hanavan (Bee-Bee) has been maimed by her tough-loving parents and ninety hellish days in drug-rehab, to the extent of gawky isolation and hesitant lunges at conversation. Compelling on center stage, she fades into the scenery when the ensemble rather than ignoring her loses all interest in her completely. When Bee-Bee and Buff sit trying to get intimate, the nervous dance of their sneekers and knees said much more than their words.

Tina Farrell (Sooze) may get out of SubUrbia because she actually has a passion for the arts and wants to throw herself into New York to test it even though she may take SubUrbia's emptiness there with her and drown. Her rock-accompanied performance piece comes off less amateur than it should, and her artist's craving for fame makes it hard to understand why she would even contemplate remaining in nowheresville with her besotted friends, even as long as she has.

The only real thinker in this group is Matt Freeman (Jeff) whose awareness of world news makes him want the whole world to live in peace, though he can't even reconcile his bitching buddies. He wants something bigger than himself, but something too big to be attainable. His fresh-faced innocence is frustrated by awareness of reality, and he never knows where to start. Whatever he does has to mean something, but nothing in his circle or in his world stays meaningful for long. And the actors around him are too busy with their own roles to allow this to become Jeff's play.

Nathan Phillips (Norman) as the 7-11's manager is the no-nonsense representative of reaity. A hard-working goal-oriented immigrant pursuing an engineering degree he cannot understand why these wastrels squander opportunity or why they spit on his modestly achievable aspirations. But his response is to yell, to wave a revolver hysterically at them, to threaten the police. It's SiouxSanna Ramirez (Pakeeza) as his Pakistani mother who looks as though she actually would use the gun, so when Jeff stands between Norman and Tim's drawn weapons real danger is in doubt.

Christian Michelsen (Pony) represents dreams. A year after playing the high school prom he fronts a band doing endless one-night tours and contracted to cutting records. His aw-shucks visit with the friends of his youth and the lot where he too used to hang out is perfectly mirrored in his costume: a glitter-shirt and levi's. Eager earlier to feel one-of-the-gang again, later generously sharing his stretch-limo and haughtily regretting he pressures of "the work" he lays himself open to Tim's pugnacious scorn . The eagerness of his friends to adoration or dreams of becoming hangers-on only aggravates Jeff's blunt paraphrase of "Vanity of vanities ALL is vanity!" --- which may be the anthem of the play.

Kara Wenham (Erica) is, of course, Duff's ideal wet-dream --- Pony's publicity girl from rich BelAire, expensively gorgeous and hot to trot. The fact of her reality forces every man she comes in contact with put up or shut up, though the episodic feel of the show makes her seem a relatively minor character.

This eager young company has made a good beginning here, and David DelGrosso their young director has realized much of the play's potential. The concentration on all the details may have been necessary because of pressures of time, but it resulted in exaggerating what could be muted, and left the texture of a bigger picture lumpy and unresolved.

But those are the sorts of things time and experience cure. THE OTHER THEATRE is determined to stay together and to work together right here in Boston. That can seem a thankless task, but the company is mounting three different shows this month, and has announced another for February. The fund-raising and p/r and preparation for the long haul are realities they have accepted. There is a new ray of hope for exciting theater in Boston. Love,
( a k a larry stark)

"SubUrbia" (till 20 July)
Actors' Workshop, 40 Boylston Street, BOSTON

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