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LA Theater Review

SubUrbia

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Do the disaffected youth of suburban America ever get boring? Those out-of-high-school dreamers who pump our would-be urbane egos by seeing L.A. and NYC as pinnacles of the cultural universe? Of course, the truth is that kids are the same all over -- and so are prisonlike aspects of life after high school anywhere, where escaping the sameness is all about choices and opportunities. Damn that thing called reality. Playwright Eric Bogosian's heightened portrait of trapped, six-pack-toting 20-somethings is often wonderfully and frighteningly spot on; and in a new production of his 1994 play, a new group of artists captures a lot of real-life grit and humor and heartache. What the stylish production doesn't do is get a handle on the kind of theatricality that's needed to pull it all off and make us see even a glimmer of hope.

Director April Shih obviously has an affinity for SubUrbia. And, with a film- and TV-style intimacy, her actors go to interesting, freeform places. The trio of losers hanging out at the local 7-Eleven consists of Jeff (well-portrayed by Brandan Halpin as geekishly cool); Buff (an appealing, boyish Dan Sykes); and brooding, Nietzsche-embracing Gulf War vet Tim (Daren Kagasoff). They're joined by Jeff's wannabe performance artist girlfriend, Sooze (a delightful Caroline White), and her friend, the damaged Bee-Bee (Ashley Holliday, quite effective), when the news arrives that Pony, their now rock-star pal (the gorgeous Preston Vanderslice) is coming to town (a smooth Lacy Phillips plays his hot publicist). Yeah, it all gets way surreal in that alcohol-infused, emotions-bared, hanging-out-on-the-sidewalk kind of way, but unfortunately too much of the time Shih doesn't stop the performers from playing for the camera rather than a live audience; we simply can't hear them, and the show stops dead in its tracks. Even the very strong Lak Rana, as the Pakistani storeowner, falls into this trap, and Kagasoff is completely in over his head.

And though Kristin Piccolo's set looks great, it's not always in sync with Chris Burton's lighting and lends itself to very static and problematic staging. So at the end of a rather unfocused trip into SubUrbia, there's no light at the end of the tunnel.

Presented by April Shih and Pullman Lane Productions at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center,

11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Sep. 21-Nov. 4.

(818) 728-1693. www.plays411.com/suburbia.

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