subUrbia, an Eric Bogosian play currently at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center’s Shimberg Playhouse has been billed as a play for people who have done their share of hanging out. Thinking that I myself have done plenty of hanging out, and that hanging out is basically the national pastime of other listless 20-somethings wasting away in college like me, I decided it might be a good idea to see what the play had to offer.
But about 15 minutes into Jobsite’s rendition of the Eric Bogosian play, I realized I’d been duped. This play isn’t about hanging out. It’s about the evils of drinking, doing drugs, racism and, the mother of all social issues, intolerance.
Venerated USF alum, Chris Holcom plays Jeff, a whiny social floater who isn’t sure of much, except that the world is a crappy place and it’s his responsibility to share the news.
Things are especially crappy for Jeff because his girlfriend Sooze, played by Katrina Stevenson (Masters of Fine Arts from UF, psshh) is a brash feminist who spews a man-hating monologue the first time she appears onstage.
And if there’s anything worse than having a loud-mouth feminist girlfriend, it’s having a loud-mouth feminist girlfriend who’s really in love with an old high school buddy turned rock star, which is the case for Jeff.
Pony, the rock star, is played by another UF MFA holder, David M. Jenkins. Pony serves as a musical bookend for the play, and he represents the only likeable character in the whole show.
On the other side of the coin, the unlikeable characters are rounded out by Jeff’s two buddies, Tim and Buff. (Three other characters, Erica, Bee Bee and Norman are fairly neutral.)
Tim’s (Ryan McCarthy) big hook in the story is that he’s an unabashed racist and is constantly angry. He’s an unlikely match for the ever-empathetic Jeff, but as Jeff says, “at least he’s honest.”
McCarthy succeeds in making the audience hate his character, and once Tim winds himself into a throroughly drunken stupor, McCarthy’s drooling abilities are truly admirable.
Buff, on the other hand, is a complete waste of space. The character exists apparently for comedic relief, but he ends up as more of an interruption than anything else. And Mark Trent’s effeminate edge to the character doesn’t help any either.
With guys as opposed to political correctness as Jeff and Tim, it’s tough to believe that such a feminine add-on wouldn’t catch at least a little flak.
What is believable, though, is that the vacuous Buff is completely indifferent to all conflict in the play.
When Pony shows up at the 7-Eleven (the site of all of the play’s action) in a stretch limo, and Jeff maintains a bitter calm, Buff just jumps up and down and shouts.
Buff steps aside, though, for the plays most memorable scene, where Jeff strips down to nothing but his tighty-whities and prances around the 7-Eleven parking lot. It’s a moment that screams emotional disparity for Jeff but also shows some courage on the part of Holcom to go through with it. USF should be proud.
Even aside from Holcom’s fearless jaunt in his undies, though, it has to be admitted that these Jobsite folks can act. In Jenkins case, he played the rock star so well, I’m ready to go out and buy his next single.
But Jobsite’s choice to do subUrbia is self-destructive.
The play is cumbersome and scattered with unnecessary characters and cheap drama. I honestly believe there is no actor alive who could make me like Jeff, nor is there an actor who could make me believe that the characters of Buff and Bee Bee serve as anything other than dramatic devices.
And it’s the drama that really fails this piece.
The ill-conceived attempts by Bogosian to include some kind of social message never fully develop, and instead the audience is left with several dangling messages to sort out.
Plays that have a focused message almost always work out better than those which try to address several things at once.
In this case, though, I think Bogosian would have been better off exploring no issue at all. At least then it would be a true “hanging out” play – nothing attempted, nothing accomplished, which is what hanging out is all about anyway.