EMAV Review: Stuck in suburban U.S.A.
★☆☆☆☆ - Not Hungry
It’s not unusual to play fast and loose with the setting of Eric Bogosian’s angst play “subUrbia;” nor is it unusual to update references to make it timely and immediate. Nevada Conservatory Theatre has done just that, under the direction of Rayme Cornell.
The place here is Reno, Nevada. The updated items include changing the immigration source of the convenience store owners from Pakistan to Iran, changing a veteran from Navy to Air Force, invoking up-to-the-minute personalities here and there, and the characters possessing Smartphones. It’s not the updates making this production a confusing mess.
The script takes a group of 20-something young adults through one entire night questioning life, the world, and their place in it. And Cornell confuses things right from the get-go. We get Norman and Pakeeza Chaudry opening their convenience store as if it’s 7:00AM. Ten minutes into the action—without benefit of changing from sun to moon (or direction of such with shifting shadows), or even pools of parking lot lights—the disenfranchised show up on skateboard and bicycles, and it’s suddenly evening. Then, adding to confusion, later in the script there’s a line about a father wondering where his car has been all night.
Bogosian’s script is filled with raw emotion, though the characters are stereotypical of the disenfranchised genre - the Bad Boy (Tim), Philosopher (Jeff), Jokster (Buff), Sensitive Artist (Sooze), Depressed Quiet One (Bee Bee), and the Successful One who escaped suburban life to find success as a rock star (Pony).
In a brief moment of revelation, Jeff says, “Look at us. We all dress the same, talk the same, we all watch the same TV. No one’s really different, even if they think they’re different.”
And that broaches the main problem with this production. The characters sound and behave the same. The cast doesn’t give us anything to separate them, to care about them. They wander with no motivation, which could serve as a statement on their lives, but when something needs motivation, it must come from somewhere; if not from emotion then at least driven by a line of dialogue, and it doesn’t happen.
When Bee Bee is found dead behind the dumpster from “I think it’s an overdose” we haven’t been drawn in deep enough to care. We haven’t seen her struggle with addiction. There are no longing looks at the fifth of whiskey Buff and Tim are swigging. When it’s left behind, Bee Bee walks past without a glance, pauses a second, then runs back and downs most of what is left.
We get the sense that Tim is a homeless vet, an alcoholic suffering from PTSD, until we find out he cheated to get honorably discharged and has a home to go to just as the others do. He’s simply mad at the world for choices he’s made, yet we don’t see the turmoil of guilt and regret underneath as he rails about (and against) those who succeed.
The pacing is slow and, again, it appears Cornell thought it would add to the sense of aimlessness. But, all it does is kill interest.
Details enhance, or detract from, the senses. Food containers have Chinese noodles and rice, the whiskey bottle holds liquid. Then an actor comes out of the store with coffee. The way the actors handle the cups, the sound when they are set down, prove them to be empty.
All this takes place on one of the most stunning sets in recent memory, designed by Angel Sandoval. The Mini Mart, with stocked shelves and coolers, slot machines, and promotional posters on the interior, and exterior with Handicapped parking, dumpster, and graffiti, is perfectly detailed. Though, it needed to be placed at an angle to deflect sound. This is the first production in the Black Box we’ve ever seen where dialogue is garbled at times by acoustics.
“suburbia” the script is dark, raw and rough, and in your face with demeaning sexual references, insults, and the threat of violence. This production misses that mark completely. The production took the easy route, relying on the surface of Bogosian’s words rather than dissecting them for the underlying pathos.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through March 12
2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday March 12, 13
Where: Nevada Conservatory Theatre, UNLV-Black Box
Tickets: $ (702) 895-ARTS (2787); www.nct.unlv.edu)
Grade: * (Not Hungry)
Producer: Nevada Conservatory Theatre; Artistic Director: Christopher V. Edwards; Executive Director: Brackley Frayer; Director: Rayme Cornell; Scenic Design: Angel Sandoval; Lighting Design: Javier Moreno-Bothwell; Costume Design: Elizabeth LaRouche; Sound Design: Joey Jevne; Fight Direction: Jack Lafferty; Production Manager: Shannon Sumpter; Technical Director: Brian Smallwood; Stage Managers: Cassie Smith, Kadie Taylor