In his play, Punk Rock, now running at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble Simon Stephens displays a remarkable sense for character and an elegant ear for the cadence and cant of adolescent angst.
What he needs to work on, at least judging from this effort, is his end game and his titles.
I disappointed a friend, when I disabused him of the belief that a play entitled Punk Rock would, necessarily, contain anything connected to stripped-down instrumentations and mosh pits.
In an isolated study room, set off in a forgotten wing of a cavernous comprehensive school tucked away in a working-class district of Britain, Stephens deals out a tidy collection of “at-risk youths.”
All the chapter headings of any troubled teens’ casebook find representation here: the alpha male bully, the pert and prim little sexpot, her less pert and decidedly not prim friend, there’s the jock, the brainy bore, the edgy nerd desperate to connect, and of course, the new girl in school.
Now, these are the archetypes that have pranced across silver screen and stage in a multitude of incarnations from Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite book), The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, to Julian Mitchell’s Another Country, John Donnelly’s The Knowledge, Lindsay Anderson’s if… (1968), and Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. Heck, but for a pig’s head stuck on a stick we could even lump in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
Save but for a brief closing scene, with the stoic Mark Daneri, Stephen wisely confines the action to a single arena where the characters assault and hack at each other like gladiators in school jackets, leaving blood aplenty wetting the sand.
The mayhem he supplies is as thoroughly engaging and entertaining as his ending is predictable.
But there are times when the value is not in the arrival, but the ride.
Producer Sally Essex-Lopresti and director Lisa James have assayed and successfully mined the true mother lode of the work which is in the sincerity of the demons that haunt the adolescent souls of Stephen’s characters.
To that end, excuse the mixing of metaphors, they have assembled a talented ensemble of young actors who inhabit the stage like adiabatic gladiators and gladiatrices dispensing blows with ferocity beyond their years.
Nick Marini (Nicholas), Miranda Wynne (Cissy), Story Slaughter (Tanya) **, and Kenney Selvey (Chadwick) manage to enhance and extend their characters with such aplomb as to effect and involve the audience to the point of eliciting gasps and evoking sighs of relief at their individual fates.
As Bennett, the bully with the eagle eye for the weakest part of a soft underbelly, Jacob B. Gibson is a standout, provoking both repulsion and sympathy; at times, simultaneously.
As the match that fires the fuse that leads to the powder keg, Raven Scott is exquisite, conveying the features of any flame to warm and burn.
As William, both fuse and powder keg, Zachary Grant masterfully provides the needed tension to carry both the story and the audience to the foreordained conclusion. However, as the mutant is malformed by murderous intent it is the muted pyrotechnics in his alteration of explosion to implosion that is spellbinding to watch.
Essex-Lopresti and James have done their jobs to perfection.
They have gathered together a truly remarkable group of young actors and guided them adeptly to serve the strengths of this show while sidestepping the pitfalls. That success is reason enough to make Punk Rock a show well worth attending.
(Featured Image: Zachary Grant and Raven Scott (Photo by Enci Box / Courtesy of Odyssey Ensemble)
♦ ♦ ♦
** Ms. Slaughter is also given honorary membership in the distinguished order of Ain’t it Grand Not to Be A John or Susie Society of which I am the president, Azure Glaze is the Vice President and Truly Yourse is the secretary.
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
RUNNING THRU – May 14
• Wednesday at 8 p.m.: April 12* and May 3 ONLY
• Thursday at 8 p.m.: April 27 ONLY
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 31; April 7, 14, 21**, 28*; May 5, 12
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 25 (opening night); April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; May 6, 13
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 26; April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; May 7, 14
* Post-show discussion with the cast scheduled
**Third Friday of every month is wine night: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.
310-477-2055 EXT. 2