Most adolescents believe they’re unique and more interesting than everybody else, and the precocious Belgians of performance group Ontroerend Goed are no exception as they demand, “Once and for All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen.” Despite the titular joke — more is shown than told, and thick accents would discourage listening in any case — company’s stunning athleticism readily explains its widespread acclaim, including winning Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fest. At UCLA Live’s Freud Playhouse, the cats-in-a-sack spectacle is undeniably involving, if thin, and a bit too safe for (dis)comfort.
We’re greeted by a line of mismatched chairs and a cacophony of offstage sound. A vocal warm-up? Reactions to tomorrow’s lunch menu? Singly or paired, the cast files into a typical homeroom, everyone clad in universal grunge (jeans for the guys, tights for the girls, and any teen anywhere may sport a U. of Illinois hoodie). Cliques form; couples make out. A jump-rope game breaks out. Two boys snap balloons at each other as a kid fools around on a skateboard. At the murmuring of a throaty alarm, they make the room spotless (these are teenagers?) and vanish. Fin?
Pas de chance; the fun’s just begun. Helmer Alexander Devriendt’s conceit is to reenact the identical pranks and interactions over and over, each time with radical variations casting light on the secrets of these initially faceless, interchangeable 14- to 18-year-olds.
First, a mock ballet throws us the bird to convey their viewpoint on high culture. Then an all-out throbbing rave has the ensemble bouncing off the walls like lottery balls before the drawing. (Musical choices from Velvet Underground to Peggy Lee are inspired throughout.)
The homeroom’s brought alive with dialogue to fill in subtext and then brought low by a mass drug-induced haze. “Once and for All” is really just a classic acting-class “open scene” exercise, marshaled to peel away layers of teen angst until we reach — well, what’s at an onion’s core once you run out of onion?
Ontroerend Goed avers a commitment to authenticity (though some thesps already seem to have been left back a couple of grades). But aside from the well-executed spectacle, we’re not much rewarded for our shutting up and listening beyond the QED formulation that kids feel too much, grapple for their kicks where they may and act out violently when the kicks run out.
As Ms. Lee points out on the vocal track, “Is that all there is?” More to the point, is that all this post-pubescent generation thinks it is?