“Punk Rock” Screams Teenage Angst

by Peter Foldy

Our teenage years were fragile. Many of us grew up wondering how the other half lived. At times,  we wondered whether our class mates had the same fears and insecurities we did. Were they as fragile as we sometimes felt? Did they think crazy thoughts or was their journey as easy as it looked at the time?

Tony Award winning playwright Simon Stephens attempts to answer some of these questions as he examines the life of seven British teenagers in the excellent new production, PUNK ROCK, produced by Sally Essex-Lopresti and Ron Sossi, and currently playing at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A.

Set in an up-scale Grammar school in the north west of England, Punk Rock gives us a fly-on-the-wall experience as these bright, articulate kids, living in a privileged bubble, prepare to take their college entrance exams.

William (Zachary Grant) is a quirky lad who could have easily stepped out of the hilarious British TV series, “The In Betweeners.” He is instantly likeable and reluctantly wears his heart on his sleeve. When a new girl, Lilly (Raven Scott), transfers to the school, William develops a crush on her but is soon shattered to learn that she has been seeing and sleeping with Nicholas (Nick Marini), a handsome student who is also a part of their core group.

We also meet Cissy, (Miranda Wynne) a pretty blonde who dates Bennett (Jacob B. Gibson), a savage bully who, under the guise of being macho, may in fact be secretly unsure about his sexual preference. Bennett’s main victim at school is the brilliant young student, Chadwick, (Kenney Selvey) a kid who doesn’t bother trying to defend himself from Bennett’s verbal and physical attacks. Chadwick is caught up instead in an existential belief system where nothing really matters.

Bennett’s other target of choice is Cissy’s best friend, the somewhat chunky Tanya (Story Slaughter). Bennett berates the girl, calling her fat, and Cissy does little to stop him. By her silence, she is also complicit, as are the other kids who stand by and do almost nothing to stop him. Nobody wants to get involved.

At first, the group gossips, talks about sex, teachers, and their prospects in the outside world; but as the pressure mounts and the story begins a slow simmer, the characters amp up their anxieties, allowing their true personalities to rise to the surface. We begin to wonder who will make it through this final semester. Who will allow the truth to be revealed – who will be the one to snap and reign chaos on their classmates?

Playwright Simon Stephens examines this vulnerable age where everything seemed so important. Sexual desire is hard to control and teenage angst feels like the world is coming to an end. A look, a rejection, a slight from a friend has a deep and profound effect.

Though this production might have benefited from pushing the envelope even a little further, director Lisa James manages to keep the tension building. She plays her cast like a game of chess, moving them fluidly around the stage. She is also fortunate in that she has assembled a fine cast who expertly bring this story to life.

Zachary Grant as William is charming and enigmatic; his transformation seems tragic and real. Jacob Gibson’s Bennett feels threatening but threatened at the same time – a victim of his suppressed insecurities. Kenney Selvey is the perfect little bookworm here,
detached, intelligent, and in need of a hug.

The rest of the talented performers, Scott, Marini, Wynne, and Slaughter, as well as Mark Daneri, who makes a brief appearance as Dr. Harvey, are on the mark in their respective roles. Each actor feels real and three-dimensional. Each scene change is punctuated by loud punk rock music as a statement of their youthful rebellion.

Punk Rock is raw, graphic, erotic, and ultimately highly disturbing. It reminds me of that time you pick up a large stone to find hundreds of little bugs scurrying about underneath. The turmoil is just below the surface – till it isn’t.

When: Fridays & Saturdays @ 8 p.m. and Sundays @ 2 p.m.
plus 2 Wednesdays: April 12 & May 3, and 1 Thursday: April 27, all @ 8 p.m.

Where: The Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025

Tickets: $15 – $30 (Student, Guild and Senior Discounts available)

www.odysseytheatre.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luka’s Room At The Rogue Machine Theatre: A Review

August 4, 2015

LUKA’S ROOM HOLDS A SECRET–DON’T GIVE IT AWAY

Review by: Peter Foldy

All Luka wants is be a normal college kid–but in Rob Mersola’s excellent new play, LUKA’S ROOM, directed by Joshua Bitton, that is not quite how things work out.

After his father runs out of money due in part to a nasty divorce, 19 year old Luka is forced to transfer from Arizona State to a Valley College and move in with his eccentric Grandma Franca, a lady in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Luka is surprised to find that his recently paroled Image 1Uncle Nick, a sleaze bag who went to jail for credit card and identity theft, is also sharing the house.

Movie star handsome yet somewhat naive, Luka is a horny young lad who has yet to fully find his footing with members of the opposite sex. When one of his uncle’s acquaintances, a free spirited young blond called Angie, comes on to him, Luka is surprised to find that this little hottie is willing to jump into bed with him. But that’s exactly what happens. What Luka doesn’t realize is that this is not some random hook up. There is greed and manipulation in the air and as this sordid, dysfunctional tale unfolds, our young college student is taken for a wild ride that will more than likely change him forever.

As the weeks pass, Luka finds that his winning streak with women is unstoppable. His conquests seem way too easy. Before long he starts to think that making love with someone you care about, (in his case, Angie), trumps his many one night stands.

It would be unfair to reveal more than that because the twists in Mersola’s play are what make “Luka’s Room” so much fun. The clues are there, but do yourself a favor and don’t look too hard. Just enjoy the surprise when it comes.

Mersola manages to push the envelope with this family dramedy as he exploresImage 2 not only Luka’s situation but also touches on our current state of openness.

If you think about it, we know more about our friends than any other generation in history. We have seen photos of their wives, girlfriends, kids,  pets and appendix scars. We are told about their fun times as well as their losses and humiliations. And many of us are just as willing to share our private moments too. In this Twitter, Facebook, Instagram world, our lives have become an open book–and this is the playing field on which we find ourselves in “Luka’s Room.”

Nick Marini is excellent as “Luka.” He is given a lot to work with here. A solid arc that sees him change from an innocent college boy to being hardened in more ways than one.  As the center piece of the production Marini handles his role with charm and confidence. He is a likeable young actor who should have a great future ahead of him.

Alex Fernandez as “Uncle Nick” is loud and brash as a low level yet imaginative petty criminal who seizes an opportunity no matter who gets hurt in the process. Fernandez is the source of a lot of the humor in the play and his energy helps keep the piece moving. I only wish he wouldn’t slam every door on stage with such force.  Image It rattled the set each and every time it happened.  It’s a small complaint but I had to say it.

Joanna Lipari as the confused F-bomb dropping “Grandma Franca” lands a few big punchlines throughout the play. It’s no easy feat keeping a pace with Alex Fernandez and Nick Marini’s banter, but Ms. Lipari goes the distance here, even giving us one jaw dropping scene that had the opening night audience howling.

Sarah Scott as “Angie” finds a nice balance between her character’s hyper-sexuality and delicate vulnerability. She has an exhilarating sense of abandon during her naughty little strip-tease performance and like Luka, she is given a satisfying arc where, in some small fashion, “Angie” is able to come to terms with herself.

The set by John Iacovelli is exceptionally detailed as is the intricate video design by Nicholas Santiago. Kudos also to Leigh Allen for Lighting Design and to Michele Young for her costumes.

“Luka’s Room” is a compelling production that takes an episodic approach to a timely subject. With it’s talented cast who deliver spot-on performances, it is edgy theater that definitely should not be missed.

Where: Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., LA, CA 90019

When: 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays through September 20, 2015
(No Performance on Saturday, August 22nd)

Tickets: $30 – $35.

Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com

(Photos by: John Perrin Flynn)