San Diego, CA---Ion Theatre has gone and done it again; they’ve shattered our senses for about two hours in a terrifying, but true to life account of what teenager’s, left to their druthers, can do to wound their own by using vicious tactics in order to self-preserve: BULLYING and GUNS. Don’t take my word for it, come see British playwright Simon Stephens’ highly volatile “Punk Rock” at Ion Theatre and draw your own conclusions.
Just recently President Obama, speaking before a crowd of teenagers in his home state of Chicago rattled off some horrifying gun violence statistics: this month alone there have been over 440 deaths in Chicago; ½ of those deaths were kids 18 or younger, and most happened in the black community. Another statistic that was brought home a short time ago is that every day 33 deaths occur in our cities via guns. It’s in epidemic proportions.
Guns as a way of solving problems, for some a last resort, is perhaps something tucked away in the psyche to save for a rainy day. In Stephens’s 2009 drama, “Punk Rock”, is a story that the playwright says was inspired by the Columbine massacre.
In this tense drama seven high school students attending a private grammar school in Stockport, England meet up every day in the school library between classes. Presumably they are there to study, but instead are subjected to bullying and name calling by Bennett, one of their mates. It is an every day occurrence and his preferred way of being in control, yet they all show up, drop their collective backpacks and gals their purses and wait for the next shoe to drop.
Once, just once, I waited for someone in that closed off library to say something. No one did. But, not being in that situation, I could never know the consequences of my actions. In particular, the girls have little to say or are not allowed to speak their minds with the exception of Tanya who did venture out into that territory only to be bullied back into her corner of the library.
On the surface the students represent typical types; anguished adolescents all with too much trivial information at their fingertips. They are wrapped in school colors of blue blazers for the guys, striped red and blue ties for all and red sweaters white blouses and gray skirts for the gals, (credit goes to Courtney Fox Smith)
Most are sweating it out in their classes, taking final exams and waiting to graduate so their parents will get off their collective backs. But as adolescents, the struggles of being a teenager is almost too much for them to handle and so they rely on each other, for better or worse, trying to be cool and even cruel to overcome any apprehensions that might show through.
Among the group there is the bully, Bennett (Benjamin Cole) whose coolness is a cover up for his closet homosexuality. No one in his or her right mind challenges his bullying and sadist acts. Nicholas (Ryan Casselman) is the jock who has the muscle to interfere, but doesn’t. We don’t know why he cowers.
Chadwick (David Ahmadian), regarded as the foreigner, comes off serious, smart and wise beyond his years and because of his reserve is perpetually the butt of Bennett’s aggressions and most likely the reason William's last resort effort to finally end it all got the best of him.
Cissy (Samantha Littleford) is Bennett’s girlfriend and a serious and bright student, scared to death to defy her boyfriend. Tanya (Samantha Vesco) is smart but afraid of her own shadow, perhaps because she is always being put down by Bennett as being the ‘fat girl’ and Lilly (Lizzie Morse) the new girl on the block who likes to burn herself “so she can feel’ is the most developed of the characters. We know more about her in the first ten minutes of the show than we learn about any of the others.
William, (J. Tyler Jones) is the holier than thou blusterer with delusions of grandeur and hostility toward the status quo. Because of his emotional fragility and awkwardness in his feelings for Lilly we never anticipate the underlying anger that erupts into the horrific. His feelings, just below the surface, childlike and naive should have been a clue to his vulnerability, but so much is going on that, like most, William’s angst goes unnoticed until the entire universe explodes leaving those in the wake to become another statistic.
Glenn Paris directs with a sure hand making these real life conflicts come alive with a young-ish cast all very well prepared and in character the entire time, well, except for the punk rock explosive music and hard core dancing during the seven or eight scene change blackouts. Perhaps as a way of letting off steam, they stomp and jerk their bodies to near exhaustion, and then look cool when the the lights come up.
To say that it was wakeup call every time we sat in darkness with hands and feet flailing about would be an understatement. In fact the entire play should be a wakeup call to parents and teachers alike. Credit to the acting ensemble, one and all for their straightforward performances.
Claudio Raygoza’s book lined, dark wood trimmed library is the claustrophobic room that carries the action. Two working stained glass windows are on either side of the room and French doors off to the side give way to entrances and exits. Benches and tables add to the closeness and between the seven and their backpacks there is little room to move around making it even more closed off than usual.
Melanie Chen’s sound design of a steady hum in the background is enough to set an eerie mood in motion and Karin Filijan’s lighting, especially during the scene changes puts “Punk Rock” right up there in the must see category.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 9th
Organization: Ion Theatre Company
Production Type: Drama
Where: 3070 6th Ave, San Diego, 92103
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$33.00