Whether it’s the experience of being an outcast or merely what it’s like to be a dreamer in a world that doesn’t seem to understand, there is something that every Yalie must be able to identify with in “Stupid Kids.”
Written by John C. Russell and directed by Trevor Fishkin ’07, “Stupid Kids” tells the story of four very unlikely friends, or, rather, two likely sets of very unlikely friends. Two dreamers and two cool kids that stumble upon each other’s worlds, perhaps seeking a respite from needing to feel accepted all the time.
Fishkin said this play changed his life, and that he hopes to have a similar effect on those who come to see it. Yet, one has to wonder if it is a bit too late. This play is full of teen angst and anger at the world, frustration against those who fail to comprehend what it’s like to be angsty and angry and a teenager. The play, not the production, seems to reek of those punk-wannabe kids in high school who wrote poetry (as these kids do) and who denounce the world for being the way it is (as these kids do). It is a topic that, while engaging, especially for those of us so freshly out of high school, is unexciting in its familiarity, or perhaps because it is so often a focus of our culture.
But aspects of the production do save the show from losing its strength of meaning in a place as jaded as Yale. Two of the main actors, Becky Chang ’08 and Marshall Pailet ’09, have a wonderful chemistry that is amazing in its well-worn comfortability. Pailet as Neechee (the namesake of that “f*cked up philosopher” only spelled phonetically) has a strong command of not only his body, but his voice as well. Everything he says is delightfully understated, yet not thrown away. Chang as Kimberly (the namesake of Patti Smith’s kid sister) also captures well the endless energy of someone who cares so much about life. Yet Chang often carries this energy too far and her physicalizations, especially her arm movements, are too tense too often so that one gets tired merely watching her put so much energy into the performance.
The other two cast members, Laura Bennett ’09 (Judy) and Jaime Totti ’09 (Jim), are less convincing in the performance. Bennett (as opposed to Chang’s coked-up-like movements and Pailet’s marijuana-fueled-like relaxed energy) seems to stare off with some kind of meth-induced gaze far too often. Coupled with the pathos that she puts into every line she delivers, this makes the audience focus away from her. She does not seem to put things on different levels of importance so that everything that happens to her is a great tragedy, and, in the end, instead of everything coming out as important, it ends up trivial.
Totti’s performance, unlike the rest of the cast, seems unguided. One gets the sense immediately that he is not used to playing the tough guy role. And while it is true that his character is not a tough guy at heart, it is clear that it is not “Jim” — his character– but Totti himself who finds it difficult to put on the airs of being the James Dean “rebel without a cause” loner.
The production itself is rough around the edges, but this is understandable considering the amount of difficulty the production crew faced in mounting the show. After being told the space they were using would not be supported because it was off campus, the crew was forced to rent lighting elsewhere and do everything outside of the university’s auspices. In the end, though, they have succeeded in putting on a solid production. Costumes are clever and fun, and give a clear indication, from the first moments of the show, who these people are. Liz Kennard’s ’07 “sex ballet” in the second act was also very well staged and performed. The lighting, however, left something to be desired as actors were constantly outside the scope of the lights on stage.
“Stupid Kids” is composed of familiar characters in a familiar environment, and yet there is enough freshness to keep it entertaining. One thing that is unsatisfying about the show (and this seems to be both a textual and production problem) is that one knows from the very first scene how things are going to end. No secrets are revealed (well, some are, but they are far from secrets) and nothing interesting really happens. Yet it is endearing because the characters, especially Kim and Neechee, are so real, so true to life. Fishkin, while he may not inspire too many people here at Yale, truly understands and loves these characters, and that comes through clearly.