It’s hard to feel pity for people who lavish it on themselves — one of the problems in Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia.” Play depicts seven Gen-Xers, most of whom spend a night drinking, arguing and hashing over their stalled lives outside a convenience store in Burnfield which, to them, because it isn’t New York or L.A., is as good as nowhere. “SubUrbia” rarely rises above the level of inertia it depicts. It requires keen ensemble play as well as an inner eye on what makes a character compelling, or at least distinctive. Under Patrick Wood’s uneven direction, we get some of the first but not enough of the second.
Shane Elliott’s Jeff, for example, a community college dropout who still lives at home, is a voluble worrier and idealist, near paralyzed by uncertainty. He’s the moral center of the play, but Elliott’s one-note performance isn’t enough to invoke the pathos of an essentially good person who can’t rouse himself to action; the center therefore collapses. Similarly, Frank Kreuger’s Tim, though he does have a moment or two of conveying danger, also squanders interest by being plaintive where he should be corrosive. This is a treacherous, paranoid character; Kreuger doesn’t go far enough in playing a bottomless manipulator who could make us squirm.
As Pony, a former classmate turned rock star, Tommy Everman misses the chance to show the complex series of tiny shocks a big-time performer experiences at returning to discover that his homies are losers. Pony is a good-hearted guy — he’ll even give a couple of them work. But Everman’s blandness, however well it expresses a basic decency, does not suggest the high-voltage drive it takes to sustain a major career, not to mention the subtle calibrations of understanding what other people will want from you.
Gillian Shure does well as Jeff’s girlfriend Sooze, who is about to decamp with Pony; and Trevor Boelter is dead-on as Buff, an amped-up figure who resembles one of those Neolithic types who hurl beer cups at the baddies on “WWE Smackdown!” Boelter delivers him as a comic horror.
Kimmin O’Donnell overplays the sharp, slinky nastiness of Pony’s Bel-Air publicist Erica. Andrew Katos and Carla Hiresh are competent as the Pakistani convenience store owner and his wife. The quiet economy of Melanie Milton’s Bee-Bee is most affecting, not only in its clarity and understatement but because, as a nurse’s aide who works with the terminally ill, she’s the only character who does something for other people, despite her problems as a recovering alcoholic.
There’s an argument to be made that the Xers have been the most betrayed generation in modern American history, the most manipulated, the most educationally deprived, the most colonized by consumer tyrannies and their slavish devotion to the cult of celebrity.
But “SubUrbia’s” narcissistic whining doesn’t pose it. And director Wood’s overemphasis on energy, though an understandable strategy, flattens the play’s nuances; he does not find a way through its dispiriting harangues. Mark-Austin Rowell’s grungy set and Nancy Mathews’ grim lighting are sufficient to make you want to pass this store by if there’s anywhere else in town to buy a six-pack and a carton of smokes.