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2014 Spring Issue 1 (April 11, 2014)

“SubUrbia,” Burnout Wasteland

April 12, 2014
By Jack Noble

“SubUrbia,” a play written by Eric Bogosian and directed by junior History major Andrew Harvey, opened last Thursday in the Little Norse Theater.

The play tells of a group of burnt out friends from high school in their early 20s who can’t quite get away from home, the USA any-town of “Burnfield,”. And their anticipation and eventual disappointment over the return of their rising rock star classmate, Pony. The characters dream, drink, hook up, and spout slurs to ease their anxieties and their self-loathing--all this in front of a local mini-mart.

“A lot of students don’t really understand burnouts,” director Andrew Harvey said. He chose the show as a “challenge for the actors and for the Carleton community.” Harvey’s assertion held true--while SubUrbia had many jokes, some Carls in the audience, laughed at innapropriate times: most notably when Jessi Jacobsen’s character, Bee-Bee, filled everyone in on her time in rehab.

Still, others left the Little Nourse Theater moved. “It was so real,” said freshman Morgan Vought. “You could connect to the themes and imagine it really happening.”

True to the spirit of experimentalism, Harvey’s chosen aesthetic was thoroughly grungy. SubUrbia’s minimalism matched the quaintness of Little Norse Theater.  The lighting effects extended no farther than granting clear visibility to the actors. Music queues kept the audience patient during scene breaks--the tracks seemed to come right out of the Tony Hawk Proskater video game, which, along with Sambas and unbuttoned flannels, solidified the ‘90s feel. The set formed a poetic supply chain--a large box of beer, the cans from which the actors drank, and the trashcans where they were supposed to end up.

From the beginning Harvey, an “actor’s director,” instead chose to focus on character development. Shortly after casting, he held private meetings with each actor to discuss characters’ attributes, subtleties, and motivations. Actors met the challenge. “Everyone worked so hard,” cast member Vicky Wu recalled. The scrutiny of this approach created rich character dynamics in the better rehearsed scenes, and formed an underlying structure to depend on in the looser moments.

The play definitely had its challenges “The first challenge was getting off book,” said Harvey. This was the shows largest downfall--the actors sometimes cut each other off or restarted their lines. They had six weeks from casting to opening night, yet, line memorization for the hour and half show was incomplete. Lengthy pauses were avoided, however, and the unpolished fit the gritty aesthetic.  In their defense, the cast was very green--One senior, one sophomore, and seven freshmen made up the crew. This was intentional as Harvey was looking to widen the base of ETB (Experimental Theater Board) participants, intended this.

Erik Sorenson, whose thespian career began with the role of Dimitrius in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in sixth grade, had a stellar performance. His character, Jeff, is a college dropout and self-proclaimed truth seeker. He stands somewhere between Tim, the most jaded of the cast, and Buff, whose focus upon the pleasure, dreams, and the present reward him in the end. Jeff’s ambitions pale in comparison to his girlfriend Sooze, played by senior Ellen McKinstry. When asked what his favorite part of working on SubUrbia was, Sorenson said he “felt the most in Jeff’s head” during Jeff’s near-nude monologue. “I got to bring out a lot of Jeff [in that scene],” Sorenson said. Jeff’s words snuck right into the audience’s hearts.

Adam Shaukat played a remarkably convincing Tim, who escaped Burnsfield to serve in the Airforce, but could not handle the pressure, faking an injury to be honorably discharged. SubUrbia was Shaukat’s first acting experience, but with Shaukat’s evocation of fear and pity, no audience member would have guessed it. “Understanding my character was somewhat difficult because he had more prejudices than anyone I could imagine.” Shaukat wrote in an email. “He was a total racist and sexist, so I had to get used to saying many words I typically stay away from.“  

Throughout the play, tension builds between the the slackers and the store owners, Amy and Tao, played by freshmen Wanchen Yao and Vicky Wu. Tim is the strongest aggressor in the conflict, his arrogance augmenting the misunderstanding between the two parties.

Pony, the rockstar, and Erica, his agent, were played by the dynamic duo of freshman David DeMark and sophomore Dana Spencer, whose calm demeanors and worldliness alienated them from those who never left home.

SubUrbia had its share of light-heartedness as well. When asked how the show went, Owen Solis, who played the amicable stoner and pick-up artist Buff, responded that “The biggest challenge for the show was definitely downing 4 or 5 non-alcoholic beers a night.” The role of Buff rounds out the trio with his free-spiritedness, and Solis matched and raised the energy it required.

While the Experimental Theater Board production of “SubUrbia” was far from a professional show, it came as a hard reminder of a shared story all too near. “it was interesting finding how much we are all like Jeff, Tim, and Buff.” said Solis. “I mean, to some extent, we are all just different forms of those corner bums."

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