In “subUrbia,” Eric Bogosian’s foray into twentysomething angst, the closest thing to a hero proclaims his alienation. Even ignoring the jarring fact that truly alienated 20-year-olds — the type who live outside of overly literary plays — wouldn’t be predisposed to such blunt sociojargon, the self-assessment is unfortunate: Coming about 10 minutes into the play, the line dispatches in a few seconds what Bogosian belabors for the next two hours and 10 minutes.
With some minor changes in costume and slang, “subUrbia” could have been set in just about any of the last three decades, maybe four. But timelessness doesn’t prove a virtue here.
If Bogosian, who may be a bit long in the tooth to serve as spokesman for Generation X anyway, wants to plumb the suburban ennui of kids who cried for Kurt Cobain, he’d be better served by specifics. What makes this particular generation different from the dazed and confused kids of the ’70s, or the East Village punks of the ’80s?
Gathering nightly in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven (perfectly re-created by set designer Derek McLane) are five post-high-schoolers: Tim (Tim Guinee) is a bigoted, alcoholic Air Force dropout; Buff (Steve Zahn), an air-headed party animal given to surfer-dude lingo; Bee-Bee (Wendy Hoopes), a shy, troubled girl; Sooze (Martha Plimpton), an aspiring performance artist longing for escape to New York; and Jeff (Josh Hamilton), Sooze’s boyfriend, who’s smart enough to know he wants more but too cowardly to even dream.
On this night, the gang is given a reprieve from the usual routine of drinking beer, eating pizza and harassing the store’s embattled Indian owners, Norman (Firdous E. Bamji) and his sister Pakeeza (Samia Shoaib).
They’re waiting for Pony (Zak Orth), a high school friend-turned-grunge-rock-star who has promised to drop by the old hangout when his concert tour swings through town.
Pony, in a limo and with beautiful publicist Erica (Babette Renee Props) in tow, follows through on his promise, and the visit stirs up old rivalries, deep resentment, jealousy and frustration. Even those unfamiliar with Bogosian’s work will sense looming violence.
While the author manages a few surprises, he mostly broadcasts his every move. The characters come off as types, forcing the playwright to announce, rather than demonstrate, their dimensions.
Tim, the vile bigot, is “really a nice man” underneath all the “noise,” observes Erica out of nowhere, and the audience will be hard-pressed to concur. Even such ruses as having Tim drop names like Nietzsche and Bukowski are less about character development than the intellectual leanings of the playwright.
Director Robert Falls seems to have instructed his cast to play Big, which leaves even less room for subtlety.
Zahn, virtually re-creating his role from last fall’s “Sophistry,” shamefully overdoes the antic Buff, while Hamilton struggles with a character defined by lack of definition. Plimpton and Bamji come off best, finding infrequent moments of quiet desperation.
For all his vivid dialogue — and “subUrbia” contains much — Bogosian can offer little more than that old whipping boy, the suburbs, as the source of all this aimlessness, the lack of character among these characters. A bit tired? Perhaps, but it’s not an indefensible position.
Still, it does ultimately defeat itself: Many have escaped the ‘burbs and lived to tell the tale, and many have told it much more compellingly than Bogosian does here. When the last light dims over the 7-Eleven, it’s difficult totake the problems of these characters as seriously as they do.