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Suburbia’ seeks out lost generation

Analise Lipari | Thursday, February 23, 2006

Opening to discordant notes of Green Day and the Offspring, senior Cameron Rains’ and the Student Players’ production of Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia” was an hour and forty minutes of racism, politics, social commentary, love and realism that held more true than the vast majority of “teen drama” tripe seen on television today.

The result of over four months of hard work, “SubUrbia” reflects the effort in solid performances nearly cast-wide, smooth production and lighting.

“SubUrbia is a riff on disgruntled youth,” actor Steve Hoeplinger said.

The play firmly sticks to this theme of trying to understand what it sees as the world’s next “Lost Generation.” It does this with a deftly handled sense of humor, packing a punch with both subtlety and flamboyance.

The play opens on its only setting, a Seven-Eleven (or as close as Rains could come to the popular chain without stepping on a copyright infringement) on a street corner in the characters’ hometown of Burnfield. Jeff (Mike Anderson) the idealist, Buff (Kyle Bocinsky) the “postmodern idiot savant” and Tim (Hoeplinger) the Air Force veteran discuss Oreos, AIDS, world hunger and cheese in a span of less than ten minutes.

Bogosian’s original words handle the conversational ins and outs with both an almost sweet earnestness and a language-laced sense of melodrama. His characters speak in ways that are both subtly true and outrageously over the top, and this seeming dichotomy creates a realistic Gen-X world, framed by his subtle thematic intent.

“I think it has some great messages and really people will laugh, cry and really think,” actress Jordy Brooks said. “Parts of it are so funny that the messages sneak up on you when you don’t expect it.”

“In its purest form, SubUrbia is a loud, fast, aggressive, rock and roll view of a lost generation of suburban youths in Middle America,” Rains said.

The usual corner crowd is then joined by Sooze (Jennifer Betancourt), Jeff’s girlfriend and an avid performance artist, and Bee Bee (Brooks), a recovering drug addict. All are chastised for their loitering by the store owner, a Pakistani immigrant named Norman (Waleed Khawaja) and his frustrated wife Pakeeza (Karuna Anantharaman).

It’s in their altercations with the store owners that some of the play’s deepest themes come to light. Tim, in particular, speaks in the voice of a bitter racist, criticizing the immigrants with the reckless Buff at his side. Hoeplinger and Khawaja provide solid and intriguing counterparts to each other during these episodes.

Sooze breaks their usual trend by wanting to leave Burnfield and head to New York, following her dream of becoming a performance artist. Betancourt’s performance of Sooze’s piece, a series of monologues under a harsh spotlight, is again an example of Bogosian’s emotional power coupled with self-conscious verbosity. It firmly sets up Sooze as one with the drive to escape the pull of the corner, and positions her opposite her sluggish peers, especially a reluctant Jeff.

“Fear of the unknown and of having to either make the right decisions or face the

consequences is something that everyone at ND and SMC can relate to,” Betancourt said. “I think that subUrbia plays to these fears effectively.”

Spurned by the arrival of an old friend, Pony (Kevin McCarthy), a former high school geek turned recently successful rock star, the gang starts examining their own purposes and futures. The play sets up a clash between Pony’s success and the somewhat aimless lives of his former friends.

“Some have dreams, but they don’t pursue them,” Elise Yahner, who plays Pony’s publicist, said. “They just waste their lives and can’t escape the comfort zone of their hometown.”

Yahner and McCarthy both serve as more vehicles of change than characters, but the actors handle this well in their good performances.

On a technical note, the lighting in particular is fantastic, playing in time with both script and music and accenting both the environment and the characters’ exchanges with an understated but powerful touch.

Ultimately, the message of the work is one of desperation for something more than the everyday, and Anderson’s sweetly idealistic performance captures this perfectly.

“I just want to do something that shatters the world. If I can’t do that, I don’t want to do anything.” Jeff, that main character, said.

“In this we find characters who in dealing with their futures engage themselves with the struggle that is their existence,” Rains said.

The final scene of the play is jarringly ambiguous and leaves the viewer both shocked and affected, to the credit of Rains and his talented cast. Each character’s fate is unknown, which accomplishes its original, and well-performed, purpose.