Theater Review: “Stupid Kids”
“No cell phones in 1987,” managing director Phil Crosby says, reminding us before the start of Richmond Triangle Players’ entertaining production of “Stupid Kids,” written by John C. Russell, to turn off our cell phones. A lot has changed with cell phones, and technology in general, since I was born in 1987, but while watching this 2-hour performance, one theme appeared to be unquestionably intergenerational: the gay kids inevitably, hopelessly fall in love with that certain irresistible straight person who has caught their attention.
The year is, you guessed it, 1987. In this case, “Neechee” (a very impressive Jon Winters) has the hots for the new, tattooed, and “man of man” bad boy at Joe McCarthy High: Jim Stark (a gruff, but underneath it all nice guy Alexander Gerber). Adjacent to this, his lesbian best friend, “Kimberly” (a poetic, excellent Kerry McGee), has developed an insatiable girl-crush on Judy (a truly sensitive, but ditzy Courtney McCotter is a standout).
The play starts from here and explores how Neechee and Kimberly try to get closer and more intimate with Jim and Judy, all the while sublimating their love and anxiety through the poetry they write and the love stories (revealed in nightmare and dream scenes, which are fiendishly hot thanks to Becky Brooks’ red lighting) they create for Jim and Judy.
Certainly writing poetry, and reciting it aloud to your best friend, as well as having dreams of sensual encounters with that special straight-person crush, is the most productive avenue for coping with a hostile high school environment. But as we’ll see, things among this talented ensemble of four gets a bit ridiculous, and awkward, near the end.
So while yes, many are interpreting this play as a predecessor to the “It Gets Better” campaign, which went viral in the fall of 2010, I think Russell has written a conclusion that is slightly too accepting and nonchalant—hello, GLSEN wasn’t formed until 1990, and we’re still—twenty years later!—seeing LGBT high school students verbally, physically harassed and bullied, placing them at higher risk for depression and suicide. In one word: unacceptable.
And while this play is an entry to the “Minds Wide Open” festival—a celebration of youth and the arts—the play really has no punch unless youth (18 and under) see this performance. Exposure would be beneficial, although knowing Richmond it’s unpredictable. If youth are not engaged, then what’s the point?
But under the fine direction of Jason Campbell, who teaches theater at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School, the play easily zips through the angst-ridden, peer-pressured halls of high school on a geometric, symbolic 80s set that looks as if it were a Richard Simmons dance studio, designed by Philip Milone. And while the persistent upswing in grunge, hipster fashion wouldn’t make me look twice if I saw any of the four characters walking down the street, Holly Sullivan’s costume design colors the ensemble in 1980s teenage wear, right down to Neechee’s orange All Star sneakers and Judy’s turquoise leggings.
On a lighter note, however, another dynamic hasn’t changed much in high school since the 1980s. “No ramen noodles?” Kimberly asks Neechee. I, too, can imagine Kimberly’s horror when Neechee says “No.” How dreadful—that’s comparable to a famine in high school.
“Stupid Kids” runs through April 22 at Richmond Triangle Players. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.richmondtriangleplayers.com/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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