As is the rage in TV these days, Metcalfe offers a cross-section of youthful friends, these being high school seniors. As in "The Breakfast Club," they're first seen in a detention class.

As is the rage in TV these days, Metcalfe offers a cross-section of youthful friends, these being high school seniors. As in “The Breakfast Club,” they’re first seen in a detention class.

Or at least three of them are — the timid girl, Jilly; the spoiled, arrogant preppy athlete, Dan; and the sideburned rebel, Frank. Their overseer is an exasperated but tolerant English teacher, Mr. Cook, who quickly learns their stories.

Dan, with well-connected friends and parents, manipulates to get what he wants; working-class Frank fights for what he wants, and Jilly completely hides what she wants. Frank and Dan, not surprisingly, detest each other, and their antagonism drives the first act. Interspersed, to lower the tone, are attempts by Cook and Frank to draw out Jilly’s personality.

The second stanza opens with new characters and a new setting — the pizza parlor — and, for far too long, seems like a whole new play. Finally, Jilly appears — it’s seven months later, and she’s a part-time waitress — but she turns out to be the only character who appears in both acts.

Eventually, the dialogue weaves the halves together, but not seamlessly. The two acts seem more like separate episodes, with the weaker second half fleshed out by the intro of two characters who add little to the mix.

Credibility problems, in general, trouble “Pilgrims.” Frank is in detention because he protested a teacher’s endorsement of the U.S. bombing of Hanoi, yet he says he doesn’t even know where Vietnam is. Jilly wins a leading role in the school play and works as a waitress, but doesn’t appear to lose a smidgen of shyness. And a father’s reaction to the loss of a son is way too superficial.

Given the script’s fissures and hollows, director Thomas Bullard and the cast struggle a lot. Tracey Middendorf is consistent as Jilly, but keeps her face pinched so tightly that the girl’s shyness appears to border on retardation.

For Cook, a character more thoroughly drawn than the others, William Anton provides a fine teacher’s mien, and Gregory Vignolle plausibly blends the disparate elements of Frank. Among the second-acters, John Paul Saurine winningly projects the thematic teen perplexities.

Tech work serves well, especially the realistic classroom and restaurant sets by Greg Lewis and Robin Sanford Roberts, and Michael Krass’ costumes.


(Cassius Carter Theater, San Diego; 225 seats; $ 36 top)

  • Production: The Old Globe Theater presents the world premiere of a comedy-drama in two acts by Stephen Metcalfe. Director, Thomas Bullard.
  • Crew: Sets, Greg Lewis, Robin Sanford Roberts; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, Ashley York Kennedy; sound, Jeff Ladman; vocal/dialect coach: Claudia Hill. Opened July 8, 1995; reviewed July 9; runs through Aug. 12. Running time: 2 hrs., 35 min.
  • Cast: Cast: William Anton (Ed Cook), Tracey Middendorf (Jilly O'Brien), David Mann (Dan Hackett), Gregory Vignolle (Frank D'Angelo), Dann Florek (Dee D'Angelo), John Paul Saurine (Roy Ferguson), Gary Brownlee (John Toole), Elisa Llamido (Marcia Miller). Next fall on Fox: "Pilgrims," the story of a group of high schoolers coming of age amid the national turmoil of 1969-70. Watch as the adolescents -- assisted by an understanding teacher and a good-hearted pizza-joint owner -- struggle with painful shyness, blossoming romance, school cliques and the threat of being drafted and killed in Vietnam ... No, wait. "Pilgrims" is a new play by Stephen Metcalfe, running at the Old Globe. It just looks like a Fox wannabe.
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