It has been 20 years since coming-of-age pic “St. Elmo’s Fire” introduced the “brat pack.” In bringing the movie to the stage, adapter-helmer Bryan Chesters has assembled a capable ensemble, but his slavish attempt to duplicate the film’s quick-cut, episodic energy sabotages the veracity of the onstage character interaction. With 19 scenes in the first act and 14 in the second, thesps spend as much time moving furniture as they do inhabiting their roles. On the plus side, they make these characters their own, avoiding any comparisons to their bigscreen counterparts.
Set in 1985, in and around Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown U., the fragmented storyline follows the post-graduate angst of seven pals who were more successful and happier as college students than they are in the cold, cruel reality of adult life. The ensemble admirably exudes the synergistic camaraderie of these young adults who are truly concerned for one another.
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Making the sprawling panorama of their lives work on the Complex’s minuscule stage is complicated by an overstuffed set that impedes the action more than facilitating it. There is also a recurring sense of awkwardness that accompanies many of the scene-ending blackouts, as characters often have to shift or abandon their character mode in order to facilitate or make way for the next scene.
Despite the impediments, performances are often compelling. Timothy Prindle captures the persona of charismatic but tragically needy musician-wannabe Billy. Darrin Ravitz is quite compelling as sexy but out-of-control Jules, whose manic drive to attain the immediate trappings of corporate success leads to her flaming burnout. Billy and Jules, who have no ability to cope with life, serve as vital connections of concern within the lives of their friends, anchoring their own wobbly efforts at adulthood.
Supplying much of the comic relief is Kris Frost’s Kirbo, a clueless romantic who becomes fixated on winning the heart of Dale, a former classmate-turned-physician, played with understated perfection by Dustin Quick. A hilarious highlight of the production finds a crazed Kirbo attempting to break up the ski cabin rendezvous of Dale and her date, only to have the concerned couple invite him in out of the cold.
Rounding out the ensemble are impressively textured perfs by Darren Capozzi and Kate Steele as perennial couple Alec and Leslie, Bryan Chesters as the always observant but reserved Kevin and Danielle Taddei as the painfully inhibited Wendy.
With a complete rethink of the legit objectives of this work, “St. Elmo’s Fire” could have the legs to move up to a more ambitious production. Chesters certainly has the ensemble necessary to take this work to the next level.