subUrbia -- 02/24/02

No, my fingers didn't hit the shift key incorrectly when I typed the title for this entry; subUrbia is the title of a play by Eric Bogosian that Nancy and I went to see at URI last night. It takes place one night (and the next morning) outside of a convenience store in a nondescript suburban setting, could be anywhere in the U.S. It featured very energetic performances by a talented group of young actors (one of the cast members was quoted in the Narragansett Times as expressing relief at being in a play that didn't require aging make-up, a play where they were the same age as the characters). I believe that I have commented in these pages that the quality level of URI performances has been much better in recent years than it was six years ago when we first moved here (or, perhaps, the first two or three plays we saw here just happened to be below their typical level?)

The set was marvelous... recreated a fully realistic convenience store... the audience view is centered on the parking lot at the side of the building, but the interior of the store can be seen through the front and side windows... the characters mostly gather at the side of the building, although they roam throughout the parking lot, into the store, climb on (and even into) the dumpster that stands at the side of the building, climb to the roof of the building (we first see Sooze, a budding performance artist, standing on the roof of the building as she declaims a diatribe against men, capitalism, the Pope, international business, and sexism)... there is even an old minivan parked off to the side that provides a locale for quick and furtive sex.

So... the cast was talented... the set was eye-catching... but the play was lacking. Bogosian shows us these mostly aimless, purposeless young twenty-somethings (Sooze does have artistic ambitions -- she may be youthful and we don't really know if she has any real talent, but she not only dreams of going to New York City, she is making plans to actually do so)... Tim is an Air Force drop-out, a bitter and cynical alcoholic... Buff is a total airhead who lives only to drink, smoke, and have sex... or at least to daydream about sex and talk about sex... Jeff is a semi-dropout -- he's currently taking one class at the local community college -- and in a strained relationship with Sooze as he attempts to talk her out of escaping from their pointless dead-end existence. Jeff is a coward -- he is afraid of leaving town, afraid of changing his life, afraid of standing up to Tim's racist taunting of Norman and Pakeeza, the Pakistani brother and sister who run the convenience store. (At one point Norman replies to taunting by saying "Two years! Two years! I finish my engineering degree and be relaxing in my swimming pool and you still be here!") Bee-Bee is a young woman who is only a few months out of rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. And then there's Pony who had escaped a year ago with his rock band, is back in town on a concert tour, and has stopped by with Erica, the publicist assigned to his band by the record company, to visit with his old friends. Bogosian pokes fun at him -- he tries to view himself as an artist while saying things like "we've already moved 90,000 units" of his new CD. However, he has escaped from town and his intervention show promise of helping both Sooze and Buff to escape as well. That's something that I took as a positive note but I'm willing to bet that it was not intended that way by the author.

The play does portray a bleak picture of this suburbia, but it is unfocused. It is as if showing this was enough... there is no real development... things just happen... and a lot of those events seem driven more by the author's plot need at that particular moment. I can remember when I was in college and delighted in this kind of bleakness... of preferring foreign films, of hating the forced happy endings of the Hollywood product... show me a bleak and bitter ending and I was happy. *grin* I think it is a requirement of youth. [Curiously, at the same time I would be annoyed at novels that seemed to crawl downhill to a bleak ending.]

Bogosian doesn't really seem to have any point other than to do the dramatic equivalent of lifting the dumpster lid and saying "Look at all the garbage!" It's in-your-face theatre, but the only change at the end is that one of the characters is dead. Sooze is apparently going to leave town, but she was planning that at the beginning of the play and she appeared then to have the strength and will to do it. Buff appears to have a possible opportunity to leave, but he will still be a shallow airhead no matter where he lives. Jeff has been shown to be a gutless coward, but that was obvious in the first act; he doesn't seem to have gained any insight. Tim is a drunken bigot at the beginning of the play and he remains a drunken bigot at the end. No insights, no changes, no point... So, in the end, the play is about as deep as a novelty t-shirt that reads Life sucks and then you die.

And one thing that puzzled me... the convenience store is part of a chain called 24/7 but apparently it closes around eleven or twelve p.m and doesn't open again until sometime after dawn.

Ah well, every play can't be by Shakespeare.

Nancy's had this past week off for winter break, but I don't think a single day went by when she didn't put at least some time into lesson plans, etc. With the vacation days I took on Thursday and Friday, I've just enjoyed a four day weekend and it was truly like a vacation, especially Friday when we went to the flower and garden show. And yet, I did do some work-related technical reading on three of those days and checked work email and wrote work email (in fact, I just checked it a few minutes ago). So I guess we're both crazy, huh?

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