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THEATER REVIEW

Finding Dead Ends in a Stunning 'subUrbia'

June 03, 1998|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a thread that runs through all of Eric Bogosian's writing that leads to one conclusion. Bogosian clearly states that the disenchanted young people of today are not really mad at the world, but they're very angry with themselves.

It's a very Chekhovian viewpoint, and Bogosian's talent for observation, like Chekhov's, never fails him. Bogosian's 1996 play "subUrbia," at UC Irvine's Studio Theatre, continues the playwright's investigation of his generation and his personal connection with it.

There is nothing bitter in Bogosian's view of his contemporaries, but one can sense him reaching out to his characters, offering them a mirror in which they can see their own images and hopefully learn from them.

The action takes place on what the characters call "the corner," at a Circle-7 convenience store in the Midwest that has been their gathering place since their early teens.

Some of them have tried, or are trying, to move into the outer world, but none have found the promised land they dreamed of, and their sense of self-value is sinking moment by moment during this fateful night.

Jeff (Geoffrey Going) is the romantic, hung up on idealism but afraid to carry its banners beyond the city limits. Tim (Ryan Paregien), the resident stud, is back from the Air Force and strutting his bitter machismo like the uniform he dreamed of but found empty.

Jeff's longtime girlfriend, Sooze (Heather de Michele), wants to be a performance artist, wants to move to New York and desperately wants to find her creative center. Bee-Bee (Terri Macedo), in rehab for alcoholism, bounces like a shuttlecock among the others, fearful of communicating and blind to her own doom.

A little bit dopey, but wiser than he looks, Buff (Tarik Soliman) just hangs out aimlessly, but might possibly be the only member of the troop to find his emotional pot of gold.

Pony (Jonathan Parlow) has become a rock star but finds celebrity as barren as anonymity and has returned in his stretch limo for one night during a national tour. Pony is the target of the group's anger--he deserves the others' respect but gets only distrust and innuendoes that echo their own fear of failure.

*

Under Dudley Knight's arresting and insightful direction, there is not a wrong moment in this stunning production, with its cast of young actors who seem to know a great deal about what makes Bogosian's characters tick.

If there is an infrequent tendency to overplay a line, it's a tendency the characters themselves have. Knight doesn't intrude a concept on the play but digs deeply into its text for its honesty and truth.

All of the performances are trenchant and informed by Bogosian's text, lucid portraits of another lost generation. Particularly notable is de Michele's Sooze, most of all during her recitation of her performance art piece--fragmented and outrageous, and painfully inadequate.

The most impressive performance is Paregien's Tim, the macho stud, who manages to show why idealistic Jeff is his best friend while illuminating the emptiness of his posing and posturing.

Soliman's Buff is a riff on the opaque bravado of the young and touches the funny bone as much as the heart. Lauren Potter's Erica, randy publicist for Pony's tour, has just the right coolness. The one sane voice is that of John Moreno's affecting counterpoint as Norman, the East Indian proprietor of the Circle-7, who, in spite of the trouble they cause him, has deeply felt sympathy for this motley group's angst.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "SubUrbia," UC Irvine's Studio Theatre, West Peltason Road and Mesa Drive. 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. $10. Ends June 13. (949) 824-2787. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Heather de Michell: Sooze

Geoffrey Going: Jeff

Terri Macedo: Bee-Bee

John Moreno: Norman

Ryan Paregien: Tim

Jonathan Parlow: Pony

Lauren Potter: Erica

Tarik Soliman: Buff

A Drama at UCI production of Eric Bogosian's drama. Direction/sound design by Dudley Knight. Scenic design: Ellen C. King. Lighting design: Michael T. Albertson, K.C. Sieckowski. Costume design: Lane Fragomeli. Stage manager: Raena Bockoff.

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