Stereotypically speaking, people move to the suburbs seeking tranquility and safety. Generic Theatre Company’s adaptation of the play “SubUrbia,” opening this weekend in the Lisner Downstage, challenges that concept.
The comedy-drama written by professional actor Eric Bogosian and directed by junior Evan Schwartz, examines racism, success and conflicting worldviews among a group of young, aloof suburbanites.
“[The characters] have no concept of where things are and how people live – they only know about themselves,” Schwartz said.
In the play, the twentysomethings are a group of former high school classmates without much direction in their lives, who gather nightly at a local convenience store. It takes the homecoming of the class nerd – now a famous musician – for the friends to see their ticket out. They each selfishly hope to benefit from the success of the guy they once picked on.
“There are so many opportunities in America and these kids don’t see it,” said Digvijay Bisht, a grad student who plays the owner of the store, an Indian immigrant at the butt of many jabs.
Throughout the production, controversial behavior is never off-limits. On top of numerous violent interactions between characters, the dialogue is heavy with crass language, swearing and racial slurs. Instead of a perfect place to be born and raised, the suburbs are painted as an insular hotbed of ignorance.
“Racism is universal and international,” said junior Colby Anderson, who plays the one of the misfits.
While the play – which has been performed off-Broadway and made into a film in 1996 – tackles serious issues, it remains relatable and honest, the cast said.
“Everyone will recognize a part of themselves even if they don’t like it,” said Zoe Petkanas, a senior who will be performing the role of the artsy heroine.
With its blunt approach to racism and world issues, “SubUrbia” has the ability to “change the way you think,” Bisht said.
Schwartz – who is also a Hatchet columnist – agreed the script hits home with any person, whether a suburban dropout or a metropolitan prep school kid.
“You see what the characters have become by the end of the show and you hate yourself,” he said.
The banter between the characters involves typical teenage topics like alcohol, sex and the pleasures of pizza and Oreos. The costumes are clothes taken from the cast members’ daily wardrobes, and Schwartz even spent the previous summer updating the play from its original 1994 version by inserting the names of more current public figures and brands.
“This is not Shakespeare,” he said. “The story is very modern and accessible for all audiences. It’s a unique opportunity to see teenagers and young adults played by teenagers and young adults.”
Though the play is a shockingly honest exploration of the ambivalence of young Americans toward the value of hard work and the world beyond their personal reach, it also aims to entertain.
“Theater can do two things: it can make you laugh and enjoy yourself, or it can make you cry and hate yourself,” said Schwartz. “This play does both.”
“SubUrbia” will be performed in the Lisner Downstage at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19 and at 7 and 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 and Saturday, Nov. 21. Tickets are $5 at the door.