Should We Stay, or Should We Go?
We hate it here. We hate the white-bread people and the white-bread lifestyle. We hate the homogenized shopping centers and mini-malls, the Starbucks and the Jamba Juices, and the Block. We hate the cops. We hate the manicured, planned streets of Irvine. We hate the forced sculptures in Brea and those stupid painted flowers on the sides of the freeways. We hate The Orange County Register. We hate OCN, ICN, Edison International, Verizon Wireless, Del Taco Bell, Fastrak and Comcast Cable. Oh, how we hate Comcast Cable! We hate South County and North County and everything in between and on both sides. We hate the filthy beaches, concrete rivers and toll roads. We hate the tired, dusty antique stores in tired, dusty downtowns. We hate ripping up neighborhood bars and independent shops for one more motherfucking Edwards multiplex, and we thank God, at least, for small miracles like corporate bankruptcy. We hate Orange County.
We want to leave. We can't create here, we can't work here, we can't focus on our craft and our passion and our art. Because no one appreciates us—except those who do, and they are either stupid or even more desperate than us. So we leave, fleeing for New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles because, well, we have to go. We have to if we're going to make it.
That dilemma, that choice between staying or going, is at the heart of Eric Bogosian's subUrbia.The play is receiving an explosively compelling production at Six Chairs & a Couple of Artists Theatre Company. The young, Long Beach-based group is composed of theater folks who cut their chops on the college stages and small houses of Orange County.
The hungry, lean cast of twentysomething performers are likely living the play's question in their "real" lives. They imbue Bogosian's flawed but gritty play with honesty and poignancy. Director Michael Serna and his cast nail the nagging frustration, tempered idealism and raw, unbridled anger of these young characters, who are trapped in the Anywhere, USA, town of Burnfield.
They sport Doc Marten boots and shoes with the Nike swoosh. They drink Bud Light and devour Oreo cookies. And they spend their nights behind a mini-mart convenience store, fighting, fucking, drinking, smoking, talking and waiting for something. Waiting for anything.
There's Tim (Peter Hilton), a racist alcoholic who couldn't hack the Air Force and has gleaned one valuable piece of advice in his short life: know your place and shut up. There's Buff (Kevin Doyel), a spastic, substance-abusing jester who can't quite obscure his pain with manic antics. There's Jeff (Ryan Jacobson), who is determined not to sell out, betray his ideals—or move out of his parents' house. There's Sooze (Mindy Woodhead), a painter and performance artist with a beaming smile and dreams of moving to New York. And there's Bee-Bee (Heather Christianson), a recovering junkie with the most fragile psyche and the only person in this small crew doing anything remotely "important." She's a nursing aid on the critical ward of the local hospital. There is Norman, the Pakistani who owns the convenience store where the crew hangs out, and his sister, Pakeeza (Tanya Melendez).
This night, they're waiting for Pony (Jason Lythgoe), the only one from the neighborhood who has gotten out. Somehow, this guy's lame rock band has lucked into success. He's opening for big bands and riding around in limos with a publicist in tow (Shannon Mahoney). His return forces the characters to stare into the emptiness they're trying so hard to avoid facing.
subUrbiadoesn't feel so much like a play as a bunch of really killer monologues strung around an often forced and clichd plot. Nonetheless, Bogosian takes us on a very compelling ride. The themes he broaches—of fitting in, of selling out, of escape and reinvention and finding your place—are universal and timeless. This cast presents these dilemmas with marvelous realism. Sure, there's a lot of whining and woe-is-me suburban angst. But the honesty that permeates Bogosian's writing avoids getting too bogged down in self-pity or blame.
Ditto for the performances by Six Chairs & a Couple of Artists. This is ensemble acting at its best. Singling out one performer isn't fair, but there are definite highlights—including Woodhead's delivery of one of Bogosian's most wickedly satirical man-hating monologues and Doyel's portrayal of the energetic, unpredictable Buff.
Serna directs without bells and whistles because this company can't afford them. But that's a good thing. Like the Hunger Artists and Rude Guerrilla in Santa Ana, the strength of the Six Chairs people is a good roster of young acting talent. Nearly as important, however, is a keen choice of material. The plays mean something to them, and they communicate that to a diverse audience.
The play itself is a bummer. No one knows what's going to happen to any of these characters, but the educated guess is it's going to be bad. Pony, the only one who has made it out, is a terrible songwriter; his songs are as complex and compelling as the typical open-mic folk singer. The fact that his mediocre talent has made him a star is one of the many points Bogosian makes between the lines of his script.
Similarly, none of these characters, with the exception of Tim, are so beat or broken that they can't change the course they're on. But there is a fatalistic sense that each is stuck. Most seem destined to lives as aimless and drifting as the old drunks who hang out in Harry Hope's saloon, drunkenly musing about glory days and waiting for the iceman to come.
But there is joy in this evening of theater, anyway, and it comes in the juxtaposition of this play and its players. Amid the frustrating choices between staying or going, dreaming or being, it's gratifying to see a group of theater artists who have, for the moment, decided to stay local and just do it very, very well.
subUrbia at Six Chairs and a Couple of Artists, 1409 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (310) 226-7075. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; also Sept. 8 & 22, 8 p.m.; Sept. 19 & 24, 2:30 p.m. Through Sept. 24. $12-$15.
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