Ninja Pirates Theatre Society's SubUrbia is both bleak and funny
By Eric Bogosian. Directed by Anthony Shim. A Ninja Pirates Theatre Society production. At the Blake Snyder Theatre on Tuesday, July 3. Continues until July 14
SubUrbia is both bleak and funny—kind of like adulthood.
Eric Bogosian’s 1994 play features a group of suburban 20-somethings whose lives have pretty much stalled since high school. Jeff, Buff, and Tim spend their nights hanging out in the parking lot of a corner store, drinking beer, eating pizza, and pissing off the store’s owner. Sometimes they’re joined by Jeff’s girlfriend, Sooze, an aspiring performance artist, and her friend, Bee-Bee, who just got out of rehab. On this particular night, they’re waiting for Pony, a high-school classmate whose musical career has taken off. None of them bothered to go to his stadium concert, but his postshow arrival on the corner—in a limo, no less—shakes up their inertia.
Bogosian’s characters are smart enough to see the cage they’re in, but not smart enough to find a way out. There’s hope for Sooze, if she can escape to New York to practise her art. As Sooze, Kendra Anderson delivers the evening’s most natural and nuanced performance; her understated delivery eloquently captures Sooze’s ambivalence.
But the men are hopelessly stuck. Jeff (Adrian Petriw) supposedly wants to write, but both the script and acting fail to give his dream a pulse. He’s the character we’re meant to identify with, but when Jeff’s frustration boils over, Petriw’s outbursts don’t feel authentic. Tim (James Pizzinato) gained an ersatz worldliness during two years of military service, but is deeply damaged: he’s a bundle of indiscriminate aggression, constantly spewing racist, sexist venom. In Pizzinato’s performance, we get glimpses of the self-loathing underlying his constant threats of violence. Brendan Taylor’s Buff is charmingly puppylike in his dumb enthusiasm, but under Anthony Shim’s direction, he tends to overplay the text, loading physical gestures and facial tics onto every word. And during the long opening scene when these three sit and shoot the shit, their physical business threatens to drown out the story. Bryce Hodgson fares better as Pony; as written, the character is already a parody of himself (“the road is hell, man”), and Hodgson’s dopey sincerity playfully sends up the character’s earnestness.
Craig Alfredson’s lighting and projection design is sparing but effective, imparting brief moments of beauty to this bleak suburban landscape. SubUrbia doesn’t always ring true, but it’s very entertaining.