When Richard Linklater (“Slackers,” “Dazed and Confused”) signed on to direct the film version of Eric Bogosian’s play “SubUrbia,” the match seemed ideal. But Linklater never found the right combination of malaise and angst for the characters, and his film is bland where Bogosian’s play was explosive. For that reason alone, it’s welcome that a local company would revisit the material. The Company of Angels production of the work flirts with the edgier elements, but overall the play comes off feeling dated, and the ensemble piece is deeply limited by a weak lead performance.
The play takes place outside a convenience store, where twenty-something Jeff (Dylan Tarason) hangs with his buddies, hyper-neurotic Buff (Seamus Dever), and alcoholic army vet Tim (Michael Matthys). Their evenings consist mostly of drinking beer, harassing the frustrated store owner (G. Anthony Joseph) and maybe watching Jeff’s girlfriend Sooze (Christine Brent) display her latest performance piece. On this night, they’re also joined by Sooze’s friend Bee-Bee (Michele Cote), who’s hoping to meet Pony, the local-turned-rock-star who’s performing a concert in town and plans on stopping by later on.
Pony’s budding fame provokes both the envy and the disdain of the other guys, and when Pony (Adam Donshik) shows up with his publicist Erica (Lisa Zee) in tow, everyone’s dreams, or lack of them, are pitted in stark relief to Pony’s apparently glamorous life.
Pony’s appearance is especially threatening to Jeff, who has carefully cultivated a care-free philosophy of life that justifies his staying in the ‘burbs, despite Sooze’s desire for him to come with her to New York City. As Jeff seethes at Sooze’s interest in Pony and his limo, he’s forced to question what he really believes in. Meanwhile, Erica engages in a flirtation with both the brooding, mean-spirited Tim, and the silly Buff.
The relationships among the characters are carefully calibrated and not at all simple. Jeff stands at the center, the working class philosopher who knows deep down that he’s probably a hypocrite. It’s not an easy role to play, and the play can’t work without a multi-leveled performance.
Unfortunately, Dylan Tarason is not up to the task; despite a likable presence, he’s miscast, physically uncomfortable, and never really engages believably with those around him.
The supporting cast is stronger, especially Seamus Dever in the showy role of Buff, Adam Donshik as the prodigal homeboy Pony and G. Anthony Joseph as the Pakistani proprietor who just wants these slackers off his property. There are moments when Christine Brent shows promise as the expressive Sooze, but she has an odd need to face the audience rather than the other actors.
The play requires a feeling of genuine realism, and director Julian Charles can never quite draw that out from his cast. They’re all too antsy to sit and talk when the script calls for extended dialogue, and the busy staging fails to let the audience into the tedium of suburban life. There’s something oddly contrived about the whole production, as if the performers never really gave these characters their due as human beings.