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‘SubUrbia’ portrays young people struggling to grasp profound, philosophical questions

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Published: Friday, February 26, 2010

Updated: Friday, February 26, 2010 07:02

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Scott Tingley / Tufts Daily

Pen, Paint and Pretzels’ production gets at gritty topics with edge and humor.

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Scott Tingley / Tufts Daily

“SubUrbia” tackles heavy topics with a comedic tint.

Next week, the Balch Arena Theater will transform into a parking lot outside of a 7-Eleven convenience store, where a group of young twentysomethings will be basking in the glow of the store's neon sign drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and grappling with the theoretical questions about the meaning of life.

Pen, Paint and Pretzel's (3Ps) upcoming major production of Eric Bogosian's "SubUrbia," directed by senior Joe Pikowski, delves into the frustration and disillusionment of the play's characters, as they desperately seek something beyond their trivial lives. Pikowski said the show is at times "crazy, loud and offensive" as it balances the more serious questions and problems of life. The most paralyzing, mammoth question on everyone's minds in the play is: "What do we do now?"

In "SubUrbia," the equilibrium of a nondescript, faceless suburb goes awry with the return of Pony (sophomore Charles Laubacher), a folk singer who has achieved mild fame in Los Angeles. Pony's life experiences and newfound success create a wave of jealousy and fascination among his friends, who still find themselves pathetically hanging out at the local 7-Eleven. Pony's return to suburbia forces his friends to question why after all this time they are still stuck in the same parking lot doing nothing.

The show continues to ask a series of intangible questions as it follows Pony and his friends Buff (senior Gregory James Berney), Tim (senior Dan Casey) and Jeff (senior Tim Roberts). In trying to grasp these abstract, philosophical concepts, the friends are left feeling alienated and insignificant. Consoling themselves with a life of cigarettes, beer, porn and other frivolities, the characters use these things to fill the gaps created by disappointment and disparity among them.

The idea of having a couple of unmotivated 20-year-olds hanging onto dead-end jobs is not an entirely original or unique situation. But the show goes deeper than, say, the cult classic film "Clerks." (1994), in trying to figure out what, if anything, has meaning in the world.

Between the neon glare of the 7-Eleven and the pressure of responsibility, Pikowski said that there exists a duality for the characters in the show.

"The characters are so caught up in themselves that the play asks what gets dropped — what gets left behind," Pikowski said.

    There is a void between the nothingness that the 7-Eleven sign represents and the idea of being and living somewhere else. The characters find themselves lost in the separation, frozen in place and unable to act, all the while building up to an unforeseeable climax.

Like the essence of the show itself, "SubUrbia" doesn't adhere to a traditional plotline. The play is a mesh of nonlinear dialogue and activity, keeping the characters' lives closer to reality. Scenes vacillate from the characters' crazy antics and hilarious remarks to their introspection on controversial topics. And as the characters' personalities fuel the plot, their actions and emotions range from reckless optimism to disillusioned cynicism.

The play's characters are relatable in ways that may be a little uncomfortable, but refreshing and revealing at the same time. "[The character of Jeff] hits so close to home, but I don't want to admit it, and getting over the fact that I don't want to admit it has been a hurtle," Roberts said. "The parallels of this play to reality are frightening at times."

Even with such heavy topics, "SubUrbia" still manages to be edgy and funny with its material. There is a downward spiral that takes place in the show, but with the use of rollerblades and a string of swear words, these comedic elements really help lighten an otherwise depressing situation.

The excitement of the play's ensemble cast is sure to carry forward onto the stage. "This play is the gutsiest, riskiest thing that has ever been put on [at Tufts]," Berney said. With their incredible energy and exuberant love for the show, it most likely will be.

"SubUrbia" is playing at the Balch Arena from March 4-6. Performances are every night at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 6. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at the Balch Arena Box Office on weekdays from 9 to 5 p.m., or by calling 617-627-3493.

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