Directed by Jonathan Berry
Produced by Griffin Theatre Company
At Theatre Wit, Chicago
Realistic portrait of the cruelty of adolescents packs a wallop
Don’t let the show’s title fool you. Punk Rock, despite a shattering does of punk rock music and a rhythmic entrance by the cast, is NOT a rock musical like Spring Awakening. Rather in the vain of The History Boys, Punk Rock is a school drama about teens in their last year at high school and the pressures they experience.
Set in a British prep school in the library (outstanding set design by Joe Schermoly), we meet the eight 17 year old’s as they get set to write their exams that will determine their college. There is the nerd boy – Chadwick (Ryan Heindl) a math wiz with a gloomy view of the future; Nicholas (Brandon Ruiter) is the athlete; William (Joey deBettencourt) is the lonely troubled boy who appears as a ‘nice guy.’ Bennett (JJ Phillips) is the group’s mean bully to cover his in security and sexual identify. Cissy (Jess Berry) is the anorexic smart girl in love with Bennett; Tanya (Leah Raidt) is the emotional fat girl, and Lilly (Leah Karpel) is the sexually active new girl that William desires but Nicholas ends up with.
The dynamic of this drama lies in the bickering, sexual advances, mockery and stress each student endures as they struggle for grades, money, acceptance, and some sexual release. Much of this 1 hour and 55 minute play builds the emotional tension nicely as director Jonathan Berry swiftly paces the dramatic tension toward a wrenching conclusion. We see the group’s dislocation from society and the latent violence simmering under their everyday life. Coping with the pressure of adolescence is vividly dramatized in playwright Simon Stephen’s marvelous play.
The young cast sported richly authentic British accents as each nimbly and energetically played teens in angst. JJ Phillips was unnerving as the bully while Ryan Heidl as Chadwick expounded the pessimism of today’s youth. But, by far, the finest performance of the night belongs to Joey deBettencourt as William. His eerie performance presented William as a lonely, awkward guy smitten by the new girl Lilly. William tries too hard to lure Lilly into being his girl. We slowly see William disintegrating into a psychological mess. I’ve not seen a finer performance by a young actor than deBettencourt delivered in Punk Rock. How he unravels and surprises us is both chilling and plausible.
Punk Rock is a well acted, realistic, and truthful glimpse into the psychic of today’s teens. The British adolescences are the same as Americans as both are under tremendous pressure to succeed in a fast-paced society. This work will shock you and get you thinking. Kudos to the fine cast of young actors for such a moving theatrical experience. Once again, Griffin Theatre Company delivers a gem.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 22, 2012
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, www. griffintheatre.com, tickets $34, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1hour, 55 minutes without intermission, through March 4, 2012