The power of fantasy and the lure of danger are at the center of Guy Helminger's "Venezuela," a play about five disaffected teenagers who seek thrills "surfing" between train cars on the subways beneath Berlin.
Recalling the characters in Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange," these teens speak in an argot that blends obscure slang with stylized, broken syntax (deftly captured by translator Penny Black). As with Burgess' teens, there is rage and sadness within these characters, but rather than redirecting these emotions into violence, they thrill-ride on the subway and fantasize about a country half a hemisphere away.
The teens' thoughts first turn to Venezuela when one of their members is crushed beneath a train. Only the tightly wound, slightly sensitive Kerm (Joe Sousa) witnesses the boy's death, and he realizes quickly that Olif, the young man's best friend (brought to life charmingly by last-minute replacement Brendan Bradley), will not be able to withstand the news. Kerm, along with distant intellectual Book (Jason Zimbler) and dreamy, slightly na誰ve Flada (Jamie Klassel), cover up the young man's sudden disappearance by saying he's gone to Venezuela to compete in surfing competitions.
As the play progresses, the lie, through letters written by Book and the group's collective imagination, grows; the young man's adventures and the country itself become real to the teens. Only a thuggish outsider (Hasani Issa) dares to question the verity of the tale, and in doing so he propels the play to its violent (exceptional work by fight choreographer Qui Nguyen) climax.
On set designer Joe Powell's graffiti- and snipe-covered re-creation of a subway platform (and with Bill Kirby's effectively subtle sound design providing apt aural color), James David Jackson's production simmers with the quiet intensity of overly hopeful dreams that can't help but fall to the harshness of reality.