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Review: subUrbia by Upstart Productions

by Jerome Weeks 19 Mar 2010 7:48 AM

White punks on dope. And beer. And aimlessness. Welcome to Eric Bogosian’s 1994 update on the American teenage wasteland. Upstart Production’s two-part revival of Bogosian’s works this season ends with subUrbia, a very sharp staging of a darkly funny drama that has a little too much going on for people going nowhere. Jerome Weeks reviews.


wall smallNowhere to go, nothing to do. So pick a fight. The racist vet (Andrews Cope) faces off against the store owner (Nasir Mehdi)

These days, many people know actor-writer Eric Bogosian as the police captain on TV’s Law and Order: Criminal Intent. But in the ’80s and ’90s, Bogosian electrified off-Broadway stages with a series of solo shows and plays — from Drinking in America to Talk Radio.  Dallas’ Upstart Productions previously presented Talk Radio and now concludes its mini-revival of Bogosian’s works with subUrbia.

  • KERA radio review:
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An unsettling, dark comedy, subUrbia is Bogosian’s 1994 update on the American teenage wasteland.  The seven young people are killing an autumn evening and a passel of brain cells, hanging out in a convenience store parking lot.  They aren’t actually teens; they’re in their early twenties. But that only means their sullen aimlessness is more deeply confirmed. One (Andrews Cope) is already a hate-filled, alcoholic Air Force vet. Another (Cassie Bann) has been in and out of rehab, and the little mouse looks as though she’s headed back. And a third, the guy everyone else is waiting for (Justin Locklear), has even cut a successful album. But he’s returned for a visit to the pointedly named Burnfield, the “pizza and puke capital of the world.”

The frustrations and self-pity of these hangers-on-the-corner are familiar enough now from three or four generations of delinquents and punks and dopers and gangbangers. The most articulate of the bunch, a community college dropout named Jeff (Joey Folsom), bitterly sums up their inability to figure out how any of them will get from their parents’ basement to their MTV fantasies of limos and cocaine and acclaim.

JEFF: “I know there’s a world outside this tarpit of stupidity. All I want to do is make something that shatters the world. If I can’t do that, I don’t want to do anything.”

So, it’s back to doing nothing. Or hoping for some sort of magical escape to New York, like Jeff’s girlfriend Sooze (Natalie Young), who wants to be the next Karen Finley-style, transgressive performance artist.  Shouting her trite obscenities, she’s such a feeble copy of Finley, we know that ain’t gonna happen.

small couple

True love not running smooth: Natalie Young and Joey Folsom

Actually, a lot happens in subUrbia, which is the play’s only weakness. The rockstar’s return and the violence it casually triggers feel like plot devices, added to create some tension. In that regard, I prefer Bogosian’s solo shows to his full-cast plays partly because, with the plays, he seems to feel a need to create some sort of dramatic arc that links his characters and takes them somewhere.

His strength — in his solos and his plays — are the great character parts he creates. Richard Linklater’s 1996 film version of subUrbia, for instance, gave actor Giovanni Ribisi one of his classic roles as an angry, funny, befuddled loser.

Upstart Productions is only two years old, but it’s already made a name for itself with its sharp stage shows. And directed by Josh Glover, this subUrbia has a terrifically realistic set by Cindy Ernst and Zachary Broadhurst. You can practically smell the flattened ketchup packets, the warm tarmac and burned coffee (although, curiously enough in this home of Southland, 7-11’s parent company, the set lacks the 7-11 references that have appeared in productions elsewhere).

Oh yeah, and that set does have a terrific cast hanging out on it – from Joey Folsom as the sour, self-hating Jeff to Ryan Martin as the child-like stoner comic relief, a hilarious, Jeff Spicoli-ish surfer dude without any surf. My one quibble with the acting is the same as with Bogosian’s play: These drunks and dim-bulb dreamers seem far too up and active.

The teenage wasteland I remember was so inert and boring, it would have put Samuel Beckett to sleep.