Presented by Zeitgeist Stage Company
by Simon Stephens
Directed by David J. Miller
Review by Craig Idlebrook
There is nowhere for the audience to escape from the horrors of adolescence in Zeitgeist Stage Company’s production of Punk Rock, playing at the Black Box Theatre. We can only recognize our own cruelties, failures and flailings as a group of high schoolers try to make some sense of their universe. This kind of play would drive me to drink if it weren’t drawn so brightly and crisply, thanks to a fearless cast which doesn’t shy away from the awkward intimacy.
The play’s strength lies in its lack of Hollywood narrative. Playwright Simon Stephens refuses to attach more meaning than necessary to the daily interactions of the teens as they laugh and bully their way through study hall in a forgotten library at an elite British prep school. The Breakfast Club, still one of my favorite films, came closest to creating this kind of true give-and-take interaction, but John Hughes was too invested in making sure everything worked out reasonably well in the end. The Lord of the Flies pushed the opposite course, making sure things went inexorably from bad to worse for the marooned children. Stephens instead excruciatingly skirts the edge of social madness, cloaking it in everyday conversation throughout most of the play, until allowing the inevitable descent in the final act.
Director David J. Miller also does a fine job preparing his cast to be unflinchingly honest, which is all the more impressive a feat since they also had to tack on proper British accents (kudos to dialect coach Lisa Rowe-Beddoe). Miller allows the action to take its time unfolding so we can register the hope bubbling up and the wounds inflicted in each character. The cast is aided immensely by Miller’s scenic design, which allows the audience almost to spill out into the library and be caught in the white light of adolescence.
If there’s an Achilles’ heel to this play, it’s that Miller seems unable to help the cast act natural for the somewhat predictably violent climax, and there’s a feeling that the young cast is pushing too hard for the drama in these moments. But failure to catch the flavor of once-in-a-lifetime horror might underline how good Miller and this cast are at capturing the everyday horrors of teens set adrift in a world they don’t understand.