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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Maybe it's a mixtape of unknown origin. Or a vinyl album that someone said you had to listen to. Maybe it's the cocksure slacker who moves into your bedroom after his father kicks him out? Or maybe it's Chris Sawtelle, the high priest of disaffected cool who pretty much craps all over everything he surveys. Whatever the source, attaining even a kernel of enlightenment probably beats starring into the void and screaming yourself hoarse against the “establishment.”
If his opus punkplay is any indication, playwright Gregory S. Moss is looking for that nugget. Mickey and Duck, the seekers at the heart of this ‘80s-set black comedy, are quite lost and spend the better part of a year embracing the spirit of nihilism and relying on; or betraying, each other to try to claw their way to some meaning. They may be losers, but Moss's tale is a winner. Co-directed by Matt Bretz and Lisa Sanaye Dring for Circle X Theatre Company, the southern California premiere of punkplay at the Atwater Village Theatre is brassy and audacious, brilliantly realized by an outstanding technical team and acted with gusto. As we move into the yuletide, punkplay is welcome alternative to all the traditional holiday fare that will be crowding local playhouses.
Couched as a year in the life of its two unlikely teen-age heroes, punkplay takes place largely in Mickey's bedroom, somewhere in middle America. Duck moves in, and the two form a band the name of which is inspired by the title of a porno movie. Hairstyles are altered, disaffected thinkers pass through (including the aforementioned Sawtelle played with a droll nastiness by Matthew Dunlop). “Music” is played (or perhaps brayed). Walls are literally torn down. Albums are smashed. All of this adds up to 90 gleeful and quite profane minutes of entertainment and insight.
The four actors spend the entire duration of punkplay on roller skates. Life may indeed be more slippery if you're on wheels, and this isn't just a gimmick. Meanwhile, if you think that fighting, rocking out, or receiving a sexual favor is a veritable minefield when your feet are not your own, the quite dexterous quartet of Zackaray Stone Gearing, Dempsey Bryk, Matthew Dunlop and Sadie Kuwano are here to demonstrate otherwise.
Even though he is the interloper in Mickey's house, Duck (played by Bryk) is the alpha male, the kid with the punk playbook. He instructs; Mickey follows. Bryk makes this Mohawk-sporting poseur charismatic without being truly intimidating. Given his friend's personality, Duck doesn't have to be.
The more sensitive, inquisitive and, yes, kinder Mickey (Gearing) may dye his hair, swap out his clothes and follow all other orders, but he's no automaton of anger. In fact, he's kind of a doormat. Duck, his friends and the world at large seem to be collectively screwing Mickey over, but there's an inherently kind and forgiving soul underneath that shock of red hair. Gearing captures the character's boyishness and hopefulness as well as the punk ‘tude. This is, at base, a lost and likeable kid.
He's believably lovestruck as well. Sue Gicki (Kuwano), Mickey's equally dark and world-weary classmate, arrives at Mickey's room and shares a story about reading Henry Miller over CB radio to legions of horny truckers across America in the dead of night. She then makes out with Mickey, informs him that he kisses like a Republican and leaves. Ouch!
Co-directors Bretz and Dring infuse their production with liberal does of dark humor and plenty of zaniness. When they're not masturbating to some seriously whacked-out porno, Mickey and/or Duck are plunged into fantasies involving talking furniture and a scantily dressed Ronald Reagan. Costume designer Ann-Closs Farley expertly recreates the grunge of 80s wear. Scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer has crafted Mickey's room into a space resembling the back of an RV. The centerpiece of her set is giant sheets of white paper that form walls which are torn away to open up new areas. When Mickey and Duck launch into their sets (their tunes are by Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley), sound designer Jeff Gardner ensures that everything blares appropriately.
Should you arrive early enough to hear the pre-curtain music of Punkplay, you will hear a selection of bubblegum hits from the 1970s from artists like Al Stewart and Olivia Newton John. Consider yourself faked out since these tunes are no preamble to the music and sensibility of what is about to take the stage. punkplay is tricky that way. Delightfully unpredictable from the angry riffs of Mickey and Duck's guitars to the hopeful beating heart that thumps away as the final curtain falls, Moss's play gives its audience not wings, but skates. Fair enough. Sometimes, slippery rocks.
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By Gregory S. Moss
Co-Directed by Matt Bretz and Lisa Sanaye Dring
Cast: Zackaray Stone Gearing, Dempsey Bryk, Matthew Dunlop, Sadie Kuwano
Scenic Design: Sibyl Wickersheimer
Lighting Design: Heather Carson
Sound Design: Jeff Gardner
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Composition and Musical Direction: Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley
Puppet Design: Adam Lawrence
Video Design: Dustin Hughes
Fight and Intimacy Director: Edgar Landa
Stage Manager: Ashley Weaver
Plays through December 21, 2019 at 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles www.circlextheatre.org
Running time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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