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LA Theater Review

Friends Like These

Sure, some of you might fondly recall your high school years as perfectly dreamy, through and through. But for the rest of us—those of us who may have felt like we didn’t belong at times—there’s at least the occasional nightmare thrown in there. Not to the extent that we can relate to those, like, insane freaks who were, like, behind the recent stories of campus shootings. Or is it?

Gregory Crafts’ knowing and caring play takes an inside look at a very particular group of kids at the fictional Piedmont High School, the site of a killing rampage. We learn this through news reports moments before the lights come up, then find ourselves before the tragic event where we meet the players. They are misfit, black-clad geeks Garrett (a wonderfully awkward and touching Matthew Scott Montgomery) and Diz (Sari Sanchez, brimming over with unhappy vulnerability), who hide in their weekend world of secret fantasy games; their pal Bryan (Ryan J. Hill), who successfully coexists as a gamer and a popular member of the high school wrestling team; the asshole jock, Jesse (Alex Yee); and the peppy cheerleader, Nicole (Sarah Smick) who is, or was, Jesse’s “girlfriend.”

While the playwright treads over well-traveled territory here, and much of it strains plausibility, he has also thrown in surprising details and created authentic characters who give us a fresh twist on teen angst. Directors Sean Fitzgerald and Vance Roi Reyes get super work out of their actors. Although Montgomery and Sanchez might have more to chew on as the outcasts, Hill does a beautiful job as the guy caught in the middle, Yee is solid, and the lovely Smick is outstanding and highly nuanced. The performers are always right on target, and smart staging helps us move past the play’s problematic construction and indulgences that weaken the otherwise satisfying evening.

Presented by Theatre Unleashed at the Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Sept. 12–Oct. 17. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m. (818) 849-4039.

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