The subject of Zeitgeist Stage Company’s superbly acted PUNK ROCK (playing thru May 25th) is cruelty. We all know there is cruelty in the world but isn’t there more kindness to counteract it? Two British high school students ask the question—and then find a sobering answer. Simon Stephens’ PUNK ROCK is certainly shocking—but not as shocking as Lindsay Anderson’s film, IF, was in l968. Both cover the same territory but the territory wasn’t as familiar back then as it is now.
Nowadays educators try to deal with bullying immediately, in order to stave off the consequences: depression, suicide, retaliation. In bygone days, a student who was bullied at least was safe at home but now the bully can come into his (her) bedroom via the internet. (Organizations like the “It Gets Better” Project try to offer hope and solutions through their website.)
Stephens was inspired by the events at Columbine to write about teenagers struggling with grades, popularity, bullies and the increasingly violent world they will inherit. At the outset, the students of PUNK ROCK seem like typical, bright teenagers. They’re British which means exam scores determine whether or not (and where) they go to college. They’re preoccupied with studying, dating and being part of a clique.
It’s not long before group dynamics begin to separate the leader from the followers and the bully from those frightened into submission. James Fay as Bennett is everyone’s worst nightmare. He singles out who he thinks is the weakest member of the library study group, a loner (Alex Levy as Chadwick) whose subject area is applied math. Of course, no one dares come to Chadwick’s aid because Bennett’s attention might turn to them instead.
Director David Miller’s cast is simply remarkable. The characters are intensely compelling and their stories connect with the audience from the get-go…and you don’t know what will happen or who will initiate it, until the end. It’s a well written script with smart dialogue. Lilly (Emily White as the new girl at school) befriends the quirky, amusing William (Phil Gillen) but Nicholas (Diego Buscaglia) has more appeal for her. Alana Osborn-Lief as Tanya conveys a desperate need to fit in, in contrast to Alexandra Marie Harrington as Cissy, Bennett’s loyal girlfriend and Victor Shopov has a well played cameo at play’s end.
Stephens’ mystery-thriller of a play is worlds better than any motion picture you might be thinking of seeing this weekend. Do give it a visit. Next Wednesday is “pay what you can” (minimum $7) night at Zeitgeist and that’s cheaper than a movie ticket. Zeitgeist is one of the best companies around doing cutting edge theater. Folks are always saying that the theater needs young audiences. Well, here’s a show twenty-somethings should be flocking to see. It’s their world, I’m sorry to say, for better or worse.