Gregory Moss' play turns out be about something much greater than punk: teens' search for identity
Reviewed by Stacy Alexander Smith, Fri., June 13, 2014
punkplayHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through June 21
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.
Upon arriving for Capital T Theatre's latest party-on-a-stage, punkplay, I spy a worried look on the face of Hyde Park Theatre Artistic Director Ken Webster. Perhaps he is noticing my companion is 16 years old. Although the two leads in this show play teenagers, it contains "adult content." In fact, many of its visual gems are an amalgam of taboos: boys kissing under a disco ball, a topless woman gyrating in a rubber Reagan mask, simulated fellatio. And yet my pulse is stable until I see the live goat. By show's end, I've decided I'm in line for either the "coolest parent of the year" award or ... the gallows pole. It depends on who you ask.
The title would have you believe this play is "about punk," but it actually turns out to be something much greater: a musing on the search for identity. From Parzival to Luke Skywalker, the hero's journey has fascinated audiences for hundreds of years. This walkabout can seem somewhat schizophrenic when the youth marches to the beat of a different drummer. The characters here lack depth – like real teens we all know – but make up for it in vivacity and naive charm.
The term "poser" is bounced around with a sneer, but all adolescents are posers – at least while they try on costumes to see which fits best. As Mickey, baby-faced Chase Brewer, a freshly minted graduate of Southwestern University, is believable as 17, as is his slight and saucy cohort, Nate Jackson, as Duck – a wellspring of homoerotic longing. Punk fans old and new will be drawn in by the promise of nostalgia for the "good old days," but the show's finest moment is when the boys' mohawked idol, Jack Sawtelle (David Higgins), leaps from his spike-festooned pedestal and calls punk a sham.
Director/designer Mark Pickell heads a technical team with much to be proud of. The white-on-white set, aglow with pink and yellow lighting, is more Warhol Factory than suburbia, but who would complain about that? With generic white props labeled "comic book," "beer," and "cheese snack," realism clearly is not the goal. An inventive, in-full-view set transformation mirrors the rapid-fire mood swings of the American adolescents who dwell here.
When my teenaged son doesn't like something, be it a haircut or TV show, his harshest criticism is that it "looks like the Eighties." Like Mickey and Duck, he's practically obligated to reject the past. Yet in playwright Gregory Moss' hands, 1985 is a time of simple pleasures, when young people had to squint through scanlines to get a glimpse of porn on their VCRs or flirt with strangers via CB radio. Ironically, the not-too-distant past seems quaint and oddly appealing. "I wish I'd been alive then," my boy says as we leave – and I'm grateful for the magic of theatre.