subUrbia

By Eric BogosianSuburbiaPoster

Directed by Justin Baldwin

Produced by Level Eleve11 Productions

At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago

Strong acting depicts 20something losers’ struggle for a life purpose

The group  of slackers who sit around drinking beer in the parking lot of a Mini Mart in suburban New Jersey take us back to the depressing 1990’s, when many lost young adults wandered through life. We meet Tim (Grant Michael Johnson), a wound-too-tight ex-military angry-at-the-world alcoholic who is cynical about everyone and everything. He pals with Jeff (Brendan Monte) a quasi-idealistic with convoluted anti-societal attitudes.  His girl Sooze (Erin Nedelman) is an artistic free spirit whose frustration with her life explodes in anti-male artistic attacks. Buff (Colin David) is a dumb, always stoned loser who drifts with the group. With Bee Bee (Halie Ecker) we meet a girl just released from a drug rehab facility struggling with life.

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We see this angry, self-indulgent bunch of losers who drink cheap beer while sitting around lashing out at society and each other as their boredom and laziness fuel their bleak environment. This purposeless, hedonistic group quickly makes us want to scream: “Get a life!” Only Sooze wants to move to NYC to study performance art, but her boyfriend Jeff wants her to stay in the burb with him to share in his purposeless existence.

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When an old high school mate, Pony (Logan Hulick), now an MTV rocker with fame and fortune, plans to visit the parking lot after his local concert, the group, particularly Tim and Jeff, vent their jealousy of his accomplishments upon Pony’s visit. Lines quickly are drawn between those who either want to do something or have done something to make their life successful, and those who are frustrated with desperation. The hold of the street corner versus the striving to escape is vividly depicted.

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While the acting was powerful, truthful, and emotional, the setting’s problems diluted from the show. The dialogue, the music, and the pop culture references were very 1990’s, including a public payphone, yet the PR agent for Pony had a contemporary smartphone and, at a key plot point Bee Bee makes a call on a smartphone. Yet earlier several of the guys made call on the payphone. This hurt the atmosphere since if there were smartphone in the late 1990s, why would Jeff and the other guys not have one? – and – once smartphones became popular payphone quickly died out. That curious update hurt to credibility of the play. Better to present the work as a ‘period piece’ and let it stand on it own merits than try to update the play with only one contemporary prop and leave all  the other references strictly 90’s.

The acting saved the play as the boredom and disillusionment of the 20somethings was effectively presented. This play is worth a look.

Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: August 9, 2015

For more info checkout the subUrbia page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6875. www.athenaeumtheatre.org, tickets $12 -$24, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours 15 minutes with intermission, through August 30, 2015

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