Juvenile hall may not be the first place that comes to mind for a meet cute, but that's where the pretty and popular Jim (Michael Grant Terry) and Judy (Tessa Thompson) find themselves cheek by jowl with social pariahs "Kim" (Kelly Schumann) and "Neechee" (Ryan Spahn), each self-monikered after personal countercultural heroes. The quartet then leaps into a frenzied anthem with the chorus "We're the kids in America," after which they flip us off, thus launching John C. Russell's bouncy teen-angst fest in which adolescent alienation is explored through song and dance. Oh, and bad poetry. Not that I think there's such a thing as good adolescent poetry.
Anyway, the setting is a nameless suburb so hopelessly bourgeois that all the kids go to Joe McCarthy High, but there's an element of the mythic as well when social friction is settled at a "tribal" (water, fire, and cliffs are involved) and one's alpha position is asserted by doing "the minotaur" (no idea). Despite all these red flags, director Michael Matthews takes such a cheeky tone with the piece that the stratospheric level of self-involvement in the characters is rendered utterly irresistible.
There's a real chemistry among the performers, particularly the pairing of the D-list couple played by Schumann and Spahn. Schumann has a firm handle on the kind of character who starts building her legend before her life has even begun and is a mistress of comic subtlety. Spahn? God love him. I just kept thinking, 'If Pauly Shore were attractive and charismatic, this is what he would be like.' Together, they define, rule, and solely occupy the suburban demimonde of the piece. Thompson engages as a girl burdened by beauty, if not an overly analytical mind, and is paired nicely with the equally toothsome Terry, who wins our hearts despite his character's limited moral universe. Marvin Tunney's frequently geometric choreography serves the piece well. The lights of Tim Swiss lend an occasional dash of magic to Kurt Boetcher's set -- a marvelous "playpen of the damned" in which the walls are made of filthy pastel plush toys mercilessly crammed through chicken wire. It's so wrong in just the right way.
Presented by and at the Celebration Theatre,
7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Feb. 15-Apr. 6.
(323) 957-1884. www.celebrationtheatre.com.