STUPID KIDS


Gay teens are once again center stage at the Celebration Theatre in John C.
Russell’s comedy Stupid Kids.  Michael Matthews, nominated for the Ovation
Award for his direction of the Celebration’s previous teen play Beautiful Thing,
once again proves himself a director extraordinaire in this energetic, dance
and music filled, laugh out loud funny yet poignant exploration of
contemporary American teendom.

Kimberly and Neechee are social outcasts at Joe McCarthy High until a post-
rave late night lockup in juvie hall throws them together with hot-stuff popular
chick Judy and new hunk in town Jim Stark (not so coincidentally named after
James Dean’s character in Rebel Without A Cause).  Kimberly and Neechee
fall instantly head-over-heels for the “in-teens,” Judy and Jim find themselves
attracted to Kimberly and Neechee’s outsider status, and a set of improbable
friendships is born.

Not unexpectedly, Kimberly and Neechee end up wanting more than
friendship from Judy and Jim, and because of this, Stupid Kids risks sinking under
the weight of being yet another “gay kid’s tragic unrequited love for popular
straight kid” tale.  As a gay theatergoer, I’ve seen enough of these to last a
lifetime.

Fortunately, Stupid Kids is about much more than go-nowhere crushes. Under
Matthew’s inventive direction, and featuring Marvin Tunney’s music video-
ready choreography set to a soundtrack of today’s hits, this is 85 minutes of
non-stop energy, and if Kimberly and Neechee do not end up with the
boyfriend/girlfriend of their dreams, they come out ultimately stronger and
surer of themselves, much more so than the popular straight kids for whom
social acceptance is everything.

Kelly Schumann makes a welcome return to the Celebration (and to Los
Angeles) following her winning performance in Beautiful Thing. She’s even
better here as the chubby but adorably spunky/cute Kimberly, née Jane, who
changed her name to that of rocker Patti Smith’s younger sister because “I’m
her spiritually.”  What fun it is to hear Schumann’s oh-so-sincere awe of her
namesake’s older sister, who once “fell of the stage, broke her neck, and just
kept on singing.”  Naturally, as soon as Kimberly lays her eyes on babelicious
Judy, it’s adoration at first sight, a feeling echoed by those in the audience at
first sight of Schumann.

To use teen lingo, Tessa Thompson “rocks” (and sizzles) in whatever she does,
and here she burns up the stage as teen temptress Judy (with a heart), who
must choose between her popular boyfriend, the dangerous new boy in town,
and her doting new best friend.  Judy is a girl who knows her appeal, and the
power she holds over others. She asks Jim, “Do you want me, or do you want
the danger of me?” Though at times Judy seems to long for a change from
the status quo, she also fears that “if I make a choice, my whole would could
cave in.”  Excellent three-dimensional work once again from Thompson.

Ryan Spahn, one of the finest young actors around, gets his best local stage
role to date as heart-on-his-sleeve gay boy Neechee, a kid who’s been ignored
so long that suddenly “being wanted had better stick.” Spahn is painfully and
hilariously earnest as he reads Kimberly one of his overwrought (and godawful)
poems  aboiut “a lone loner lonely…inside my lone loner lonely self,” or as he
gazes lovingly at Jim with puppy dog eyes. In Spahn’s sensitive performance,
Neechee’s very real fears about coming out about his feelings for Jim will
resonate with many in the Celebration’s audience.

Finally, there’s hottie newcomer Michael Grant Terry as goldenboy Jim, who
looks as good in a t-shirt as anyone within memory, and is a dynamic and
talented young actor to boot. Nice as his Jim can be, even to rejects like
Neechee, there’s always the threat of violence under the surface.  At the
same time, Jim seems clueless to Neechee’s feelings, evidenced when he
speculates to Neechee that one of their teachers may be gay, all the while
having a gay boy right in front of him. I look forward to seeing what’s next for
Terry.

Besides the unrequited love stories, the rest of Stupid Kids revolves around a
“‘tribal’ out on the cliff” that Jim must attend in order to win the right to Judy,
and later around a hazing Jim and Judy must both undergo to maintain their
social status among the popular kids.

There are funny lines galore in Stupid Kids, as when Judy tells Jim, “I want to
understand your darkness,” or when she later declares that after all the work
she’s done on herself, “I deserve to screw someone!” There’s also the humor
that comes simply from these kids being themselves.  Judy is so self-centered
that before lighting a cigarette, she takes the gum she’s been chewing and
sticks it on the beer bottle Neechee is holding. (Neechee being Neechee just
pops it into his mouth and starts chewing.)  Lacking an ashtray, Judy simply
flicks her ash into the beer bottle Neechee is still drinking from, and later drops
in the entire half-finished cigarette. Talk about self-absorbed.

In choreographer Tunney’s skilled hands, all four actors acquit themselves
admirably in the dance sequences, most notably Thompson, a hot-bodied
wow of a dancer in an extended solo. (In one hilarious bit, Matthews has
Schumann holding an electric fan up at Thompson, to give her that
windblown look, a la supermodel photo shoots.) There’s also a great fantasy
wish-fulfillment sequence in which, however briefly, Kimberly and Neechee find
their dreams coming true.  Tunney and Matthews have also added
choreographed movements to the many rapid scene changes.

Kurt Boetcher returns to the Celebration with yet another outstanding set
design, this one featuring a gaggle of stuffed animals festooned upstage right
and left, and hundreds of mulit-sized Christmas lights hanging above the set,
part of Tim Swiss’s complex and effective lighting design, which also includes
some stark florescent lighting at times. Resident costumer Marjorie Lockwood
knows these four teens very well, and the clothes she’s created for them show
it. Finally, Cricket S. Myers and Ryan Poulson’s sound designs is one of their best,
featuring tons of rock tunes and Poulson’s original music as well.

Though Kimberly and Neechee are offering Jim and Judy a “serious alternative
to slavery,” there’s little doubt which decision the popular kids will come to.  
Fortunately, Russell’s two outcasts have forged a friendship that has made
them strong enough to not be so stupid in days to come.  Even without the
“happily ever after” ending that made Beautiful Thing such a beautiful thing
indeed, Stupid Kids is a winner, which not coincidentally is exactly what
Kimberly and Neechee have learned to see themselves as.

Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
February 15, 2008
Photos: Kurt Boetcher

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