Suburbia by Eric Bogosian
Presented by Upstart Productions
Inaugural review for Emerging Rants & Raves by UNT Senior and Broken Gears Theatre producing partner R. Andrew Aguilar
Alienation, apathy, ambition, despair, disillusionment, racism, competition, envy, social myopia, decay, and the American Dream are all themes which are present within Eric Bogosian’s whirlwind of a play “Surburbia” . . .a COMEDY! Well, maybe a tragicomedy.
This play, originally produced in 1994 at the Lincoln Center Theatre, was later made into a feature film starring two of the original cast members, Steve Zahn and Samia Shoaib. It’s about a handful of twenty something Gen-x’ers stuck in a proverbial rut hanging out on the corner of a convenience store and has often been cited as a slacker’s “Iceman Cometh,” as Pony, the one-time geek who escapes and makes something of himself, returns to his hometown of Burnfield, Mass., and acts as the catalyst for eventual dissolve of the stasis, monotony, and safety that “the corner” has provided to the group of young misfits. However, unlike Eugene O’Neill’s “Iceman” Hickey, the emotional and intellectual center of the play is not Bogosian’s “Iceman” Pony. Rather ii is rationed out between all of the characters that inhabit “the corner,” with the majority of the weight falling on Jeff(played by Joey Folsom) and Tim(Andrews W. Cope.) These two characters most reflect the playwright’s mind, as if he took the Yin and Yang of his own struggling conscience and split it into two separate and equal entities. Tim made it out of Burnfield, Mass., then tucked tail and ran back and has fallen into an anarchistic and destructive shell of his former self. He possesses acute intelligence, logic, and perception. Instead of using these traits for the betterment of his life, or the lives of his “friends,” he uses them to amuse himself in the only way he knows how: to cause discord among those who surround him, and to shield his own terror and despondency in a world he feels has forgotten him. Jeff, protagonist in the play, rants about society and the world’s ills in general but equivocates over taking any action himself by making excuse after excuse to cover his own cowardice and inertia. Exhibiting elements of the Hamlet complex, Jeff lets his mind stalemate himself with wishful thinking that he can do something “that shatters the world,” while blinding him to the very real and dangerous problems that are right in his face. When he finally opens his eyes, the consequences are devastating. Both Jeff and Tim fear failure, but not as much as they fear success, because success as Jeff suspects, and Tim knows – is not what they dreamed it to be. They choose to remain in a purgatory of their own making, cursing the fire below and denouncing the clouds above.
Upstart Productions has once again raised the standard of theatre in this city. This is the third show I have seen produced by these artists. Even though I have seen three other productions of “subUrbia,” as well as the film, I still laughed and gasped like I had never seen it before. Of all the productions I have seen, this is the best by far, in every aspect. Everything from the direction, to the performances, to the set, costumes, sound, lights, and props were painstakingly detailed and breathtaking. Josh Glover makes an astonishing professional directorial debut with intuitive, intelligent, and kinetic blocking, superb casting, and outstanding attention to the hidden symbolism within the play. Zachary Broadhurst and Cindy Ernst absolutely outdid themselves with the set, which looked more believable to me than several of my own neighborhood “corners.” Down to the cracks in the concrete that ran along the audience’s feet, no detail was neglected. Jeremy Stein’s fight choreography blended seamlessly, never causing a raised eyebrow or a moment of disbelief. The Sound (designed by Mason York) and Costumes (designed by Korey Kent) threw us right back into the post-grunge fantasia of the mid nineties with more clarity than any other aspect in this production.
Now, the performances across the board were stellar, and I would not feel satisfied if I did not mention everyone. Joey Folsom, in the role of Jeff, once again exhibits amazing focus, specificity, and commitment as he whittles out every nuance the role offers. Andrews W. Cope plays Tim with such menace, hidden beneath both a matter of fact bluntness and a deliberately transparent “good old boy” disposition, that you truly fear what he is capable of, and what he might do next. Natalie Young is the first actress to ever play Sooze and not make me detest every aspect of her character. I did not just see a spoiled brat who is looking for the easiest way to the top, but a girl who desperately wants to get away from Burnfield and burn away all the memories that place holds for her, and she will look for any means to that end. Ryan Martin plays Buff with such blissful ignorance, that you cannot help but smile every time he comes onto the stage. Buff is not exactly the most complex character in the world, but he is reminiscent of that slow kid who used to be in your class, though he never really contributed much to the conversation, he always said really nice things about you- and that made you feel good. Nasir Medhi as Norman communicated way more about his attitude towards these losers with his narrowed eyes, than he is ever given the chance do with dialogue, and his sister Pakeeza, played by Maryam Baig-Lush, communicates a growing sense of frustration and unease with surprising ease on her part, especially considering she never speaks English. Justin Locklear as Pony and Samantha Rodriguez as Erica are both effective counterpoints for the rest of the inhabitants of the corner, with Locklear’s frustratingly fake sincerity and “aw, shucks” attitude, and Rodriguez’s vapid, almost poisonous delight at finding a new plaything, and tossing it aside as soon as it’s run its course. To me however, the most effective performance was Cassie Bann as Bee-Bee. The real heart of this play, she has the confidence as an actress to let herself fade completely into the background even though she is center stage for the majority of the show. I felt my heart breaking every time I looked in her direction and saw that she as an actress was still so connected to the world of the play and the other actors, but completely disconnected from the environment and the characters within it. I truly hope that her performance does not go unacknowledged, which quiet performances so often are when faced with characters that are written to be scene stealers. . .Just look at Aaron Eckhart in “the Dark Knight.”
Anyway, I cannot recommend this play enough. If you want to see some of the best work in Dallas, if not THE best work, make your way over to the Green Zone over the next three weeks and catch “SubUrbia,” you won’t be disappointed.
If you are. . .what’s wrong with you?
Suburbia plays through April 10th at The Green Zone, 161 Riveredge Drive. For tickets go to www.upstarttheater.com. Or call SmartTix at (877) 238-5596.
Check out their video trailer for the production and join Team Upstart Wednesday night after the show, on 3/24 and 4/7, at Buzzbrew’s, 4334 Lemmon Avenue. Special menu, karaoke, trivia contests.
NOTE: this play contains adult language and content as well as cigarette smoking.