A coming-of-age tale/homoerotic teen bromance unfolding in the Reagan 1980s to a punk rock soundtrack set to mute. Meet Gregory S. Moss’s punkplay, the electrifying latest from Circle X Theatre Co., an edgy/nostalgic dramedy with occasional forays into “WTF is that supposed to mean?” territory.

A voiceover intro (ingeniously staged by directors Matt Bretz and Lisa Sanaye Dring to feature a white jumpsuit-clad Matthew Dunlop in Lloyd Dobler-holding-boombox mode) introduces us the Eighties, aka “that bit of flesh that runs between the asshole [the 1970s] and the scrote [the 1990s]” before Dunlop rips away the yards upon yards of white poster paper that have heretofore hidden Sibyl Wickersheimer’s all-white shoebox of a set to reveal a teenager’s lair.

The bedroom in question belongs to Mickey (Zackary Stone Gearing), whose best–and quite possibly only–friend Duck (Dempsey Bryk) has today been unceremoniously kicked out of the family home by his my-way-or-the-highway dad (“He says I need discipline. I said, ‘Fuck you.’”) and needs a place to crash.

punkplay then proceeds to examine Mickey and Duck’s friendship as Spring turns to Summer turns to Fall turns to Winter, with occasional visitors–a renegade 20something French-Canadian couple, the punk-girl classmate Mickey is crushing on, and town badass “Chris Sawetelle”–popping by to spice things up.

Mickey and Duck may be besties, but it’s clear from the get-go who’s in charge (that would be Duck) and who’s his eager disciple (that would be Mickey) as Duck’s hair gets razored into a defiant mohawk and half of Mickey’s gets dyed blood red, just part of the duo’s embrace of punk rebellion against the conformist world that surrounds them.

Audience members long past puberty will chuckle at the boys’ dead earnestness when discussing matters of sex, music, and the society against which they are revolting. (A running bit has them trying out names for the punk band they’re hoping to form, monikers like “Inarticulate Rage,” “Wheelchair Orgy,” and “Attitude Colonic.”)

Along the way they discover the unexpected joys of the then exploding world of cable TV (“There’s all these channels, and they like come in perfectly from like Atlanta and Chicago and stuff”), take refuge from bullies who don’t particularly understand or appreciate their punk credo, get turned on by VHS porn (“What is that?” “That’s her vagina, Mickey.”), discuss STDs (“You leak like this green stuff, like the puke in The Exorcist”), and create their own original punk songs (by musical directors Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley) with Duck on electric guitar and Mickey on drums.

That the boys’ live performance is the only punk music actually heard in Moss’s play is just one of its some-would-say-pretentious conceits. Another is having the boys on roller skates throughout. And the poster-paper strips and plain white boxes and bottles labeled “Cheetos” and “DM” (for dextromethorphan) veer deep into what’s-that-supposed-to-symbolize land.

Still, there’s no denying the excitement generated by this Circle X Southern California Premiere, and never more so than when Mickey gets high on Robitussin, a drugged-out dream sequence involving a red-white-&-blue swimsuit-clad female Ronald Reagan and some talking furniture. (A tussle turned slow dance turned ____ comes in a close second.)

It helps enormously that Mickey and Duck are brought to life by two of the most dynamic, talented, charismatic young actors in town, Bryk in angry-young-man mode opposite Gearing’s heartachingly vulnerable second fiddle, with Dunlop and Sadie Kuwano providing powerhouse support in multiple featured roles. (Their French-Canadian outlaws are a particular hoot.)

Wickersheimer’s set is just one element of a thrillingly original production design completed by Heather Carson’s flashy lighting, Jeff Gardner’s punktastic sound, Ann Closs Farley’s 1980s-perfect costumes and hair, Adam Lawrence’s inventive puppets, Nichole Baffone’s clever props, and Dustin Hughes’ intriguingly abstract projections, with Edgar Landa earning his own fight/intimacy-direction points.

punkplay is produced by Jen Kays and Jennifer A. Skinner. Dena Cerino and Cece Tio are associate producers. Casting is by Gayle Pillsbury. Conlan Kisilewicz and Khara Fernando are understudies. Crew members Jillian A. Linder and Ruby Farley score bonus points for puppeteering.

Ashley Weaver is production stage manager and Kathleen Ressegger is assistant stage manager. Ilana Turner is dramaturg.

Though some may go gaga for its trippier aspects, it’s punkplay’s authentic, affecting look at its misfit protagonists that make it well worth seeing and savoring, especially if you’ve ever felt trapped on the outside looking in.

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Circle X Theatre Co. @ Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. Through December 21. Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays and Sundays at 7:00.

–Steven Stanley
December 1, 2019
Photos: Gary Leonard


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