I went to a really small high school; my graduating class was only 27 people. With such a small school, a lot of the dynamics that get talked about in all of the classic high school movies didn’t play out in the same way, or maybe without the same intensity, as they seem to in other schools. Of course, I also loved my high school for the most part after a pretty wretched middle school experience so maybe someone who went there and didn’t love it so much would have a different perspective.
Anyway, perhaps this background is one of the reasons I’m fascinated by high school stories. I’ve been a “Glee” fan since the beginning; I was still curious about the “High School Musical” series long after most adults had tired of it (if it registered for most adults at all...); and my remembered affection for “Breakfast Club” made me show the movie to my children a couple of years ago, before it was appropriate for any of them to see.
So I went into RTP’s “Stupid Kids” (my review's in Style this week) with a backlog of affection for the genre and, when the first vivid scene pulsed to life, I was pretty much hooked. Music was essential to setting the context and Jason Campbell picked out some exceptional songs to instantly transport me back to those weird and wonderful mid-80s. (I know that the script suggests certain songs for the “Music Video” interludes but I don’t know whether Mr. Campbell took all of the suggestions.)
The main thing that distinguishes this show from all of the other stories that mine the high school experience for its often easily-obtained pathos is the inclusion of two gay characters. As someone points out in the “Out and About” interview with the cast, when you list the high school cliche characters, the “gay kid” isn’t always included. And the two in this show are well-drawn and then vividly realized by Kerry McGee and Joe Winters. Among my few quibbles with the production are that both of these actors are too good-looking for me to really believe they are outcasts, regardless of sexual orientation. But that’s only a slight suspension of disbelief and one that is quickly forgotten as these two actors expertly portray their particular flavor of tortured relationship. Perhaps my only other quibble is that I think a character calling himself “Nietzche” and then worrying about the spelling is just kind of ridiculous (and why not “Neechuh” for the alternate pronunciation?)
Alexander Gerber didn’t initially impress me as Jim but, as he provides glimpses beyond Jim’s tough exterior to show his desire to fit in and the humiliation he allows to befall him, Gerber’s portrayal really soars. And Courtney McCotter’s Judy is fantastic. As someone who has more exposure to teenage girls than is probably healthy thanks to my two daughters, I think McCotter does a great job of capturing the maelstrom of emotions that someone who lives and breathes a particular social scene weathers.
Among the things I really appreciate about the show is the revelation that Kimberly makes in the second act that the objects of their affection are not really worth the depth of their feelings. While that’s particularly true regarding the characters in the show, isn’t that kind of the truth about just about every high school relationship? The stakes always seemed so high and only in retrospect do you realize that your behavior was pretty ridiculous. The use of “tribal” language also brilliantly brings shape to something that is usually a vague high school dynamic. There usually is a tribal energy at play, even if no one’s running through the woods in grass skirts or skewering each other with spears.
The wanton use of “bad language” was also refreshing but, if you come out of the show feeling a little barraged by all of the swearing, drug use and sex, the Mill is offering a counterpoint in “Church Basement Ladies” (reviewed in this week’s Style). I’d recommend using one as a salve for the other; see them both in a weekend and you’ll come out perfectly balanced!