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SubUrbia’ tackles hard issues

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, February 21, 2006

It would seem to the average viewer like life in the suburbs is the ultimate in 21st century disaffection. Modern films such as “American Beauty” and “Edward Scissorhands,” or even Nicholas Ray’s classic “Rebel Without a Cause,” examine these smaller towns as hotbeds (or, rather, lukewarm-beds) of hypocrisy, inertia, dissatisfaction, oppression or all of the above.

This weekend, another look at the suburbs and their inhabitants comes to campus in the Washington Hall Lab Theater from the Student Players in the form of Eric Bososian’s “SubUrbia.”

Directed by senior Cameron Rains, “SubUrbia” is a look at 12 hours in the lives of a few token Gen-Xers with little to do other than stand outside a local 7-Eleven. Jeff, Sooze, Bee Bee, Pakeezah and the rest are average in most respects as they go through the motions of their daily lives as part of the MTV generation.

This routine, however, is jarringly interrupted by the arrival of Pony, a former high school geek who has reincarnated himself as a rock star. The way that each character reacts to his success, or rather to his escape from the lethargy of the everyday, is for Rains the essence of the work.

“‘SubUrbia’ is a story of characters who are trying to escape, to be free, to do something with their lives,” Rains said in an interview with The Observer. “The thing is that none of them can get out, the street corner is a cage to their being. Everyday, they will gather at the corner and do seldom more than wax philosophical about the price of Oreos or the current state of world hunger.”

What’s interesting for the average Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s student, however, is that the honesty of the characters’ musings and struggles is very much in tune with their own experiences. College students could have trouble understanding the motivations of characters more likely to walk out of the convenience store in “Clerks” than the hallways of DeBartolo. But for the cast, this is less likely than it seems.

“It’s sort of a flip side of the Domer coin,” Stephen Hoeplinger said. Hoeplinger plays Tim, a former Air Force cadet and fellow street-corner frequenter.

“What makes it personal for me is that I see it as what would happen to Notre Dame students if they didn’t go to college, if they just stayed home and didn’t try to do anything with their lives,” Hoeplinger said.

Other cast members see the play as a chance to examine these current times, with a tough look at the conventions of the average American small town.

“The show centers around themes of unfulfilled ambition, idleness and the subsequent frustration and despair,” Jennifer Betancourt, who plays Sooze, said. “It is an account of their lives which are spent in front of their local convenience store and their failure to find meaning in an age of conflicting values.”

By looking closely at the conflict and inherent apathy of these times and these lives, however, the play deals with deeper themes that stretch across our own boundaries.

“The play also deals a lot with racism, violence, sex and other controversial and contemporary topics,” Elise Yahner – who plays Pony’s publicist, a rich girl getting a taste of the suburban life during her client’s visit home – said. “Among all of this is humor, so this play has it all.”

American playwright Eric Bogosian wrote “SubUrbia” after writing a string of powerful one-man shows. Rains sees this, the playwright’s first ensemble piece, as something extremely relevant for its current audience.

“[The play] has become a driving force in my life, because I believe that the characters carry with them messages that resonate deep within the members of our generation,” Rains said. “We find characters really asking the question that we as college students and adults are forced to confront, ‘What am I going to do with my life? And is there really something better?'”

To Rains, the play couldn’t be timelier in light of the recent discussions of academic freedom and Catholic character.

“‘SubUrbia’ is a show that stresses the importance of Notre Dame’s academic freedom and stands as an example as to what students and faculty may be forced to lose,” Rains said.