Hoods, nerds, and Eisenhower-era tailfin cars perfect for a climactic drag race are the images we should see -- or imagine -- in "Rebel Without a Cause," a play by James Fuller based on Stewart Stern's screenplay for the iconic 1955 film, which was itself adapted by Irving Shulman from a story by Nicholas Ray. This radically redacted "Rebel," licensed by the Dramatic Publishing Company, has never been produced in New York, and the nonprofit Barely Balancing Artists Group was specifically assembled to present it. There are loftier goals.
If this company sported some actual theatre rebels, the production's incessant dullness and amateurishness might be overlooked. In the end, though, "Rebel" is meant to be a film; it loses something in theatrical translation even as the story stays the same. Jim Stark (Joshua Coleman), a wayward teen with anger-management issues, is insufficiently loved by his narcissistic parents (Adeline Drescher and Stan Andrew), who move whenever Jim gets into scrapes. Now in another no-name town, Jim klutzily alienates the toughs (Major Dodge, Giò Crisafulli, Jonathan Maccia, and Swann Gruen), allies with geeky Plato (Allie Mulholland), and daringly, fleetingly flirts with the girls (Erin Cunningham and Valerie Cirillo) who endow the hoods with their swagger. Ray (Peter Bongiorno), a veteran cop, and Officer Mullen (Jamie Effros) are the long arm of the law -- where rebellious '50s teens face their fate.
Aside from Coleman, who actually invests Jim with inner life, the performances are wanting. And the uncredited set -- part interrogation room, part police-station waiting room -- is wholly unhelpful to the flow. Music would ameliorate the set changes but not steady the production's barely balanced dramatic pitch, with scenes rumbling from low to high unexpectedly. At the performance I attended, in a confrontation with his parents, Jim's bed broke. In a confrontation with live audiences, our forbearance brakes -- but not before it goes off a cliff. This "Rebel" has no cause and no effect.