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Stupid Kids: Welcome To The (Blackboard) Jungle

Have you ever dealt with the urge to laugh at the wrong time? Been unable to tell if someone was joking or not? This was the awkward situation I dealt with during the Sturm Und Drang production of Stupid Kids. The play by the late John C. Russell is  a high school melodrama set in the 80's and reminiscent of Rebel Without a Cause.

Four students from Joe McCarthy High School meet in juvie hall. New kid Jim Stark (Topher Mikels) is the James Dean counterpart, brooding, hot headed, and desperate to make a name for himself. His eye is caught by Judy (Kate Morgan Chadwick), a popular Material Girl who is the main squeeze of the local gang leader. Judy befriends Kimberly (Trish LaRose), a Patti Smith fixated punk misfit, who carries a secret torch for Judy. Kimberly's friend and co-author of bad, angsty teen poetry is Neeche (Eric Lesh), "Like the philosopher, but spelled phonetically to be more accessible". Neeche, of course, has the closeted hots for Jim, both for his body and for the potential social acceptance an alliance with popular guy could bring to himself and Kimberly.

Neeche and Kimberly scheme to get Jim and Judy together, so as to overthrow the current school status quo and validate their own social standings, while still nursing their feelings for the shallow golden pair. Jim wants Judy initially as much out of a lust for power as for plain lust. Judy seems confused and somewhat ambivalent ("I deserve to screw someone, and here are two boys who desire me… I should probably screw one of them."). There are "tribals" (some sort of gang rumble), drug scenes, bizarre primitive rituals, and, er, dance sequences.

John C. Russell died in 1994 at the age of 31, having been a member of various new playwrights' groups, and a number of his plays produced in New York. Stupid Kids was first produced in 1998 by the WPA theatre. The Sturm und Drang Company production is the company's second play, Prometheus Passion having been their debut earlier this year.

I've been trying desperately to figure out if I disliked this play, or the production. As I said at the start, it was unclear how seriously we were supposed to take these "stupid kids". True, the angst and pretension rang true, and I'm certain that some of the melodrama was intended to be laughable, but when clashing with the later scenes of earnestness, I felt like I might be guffawing when I was supposed to be touched. Moments where we're presumably supposed to be laughing at the characters makes feeling for them at other times difficult. For example, Neeche and Kimberly both deliver impassioned poems about their secret loves. I was cracking up at Neeches' lines "Underneath the mask/ I burn Anarchy and Fire/ And the velocity of poetry". I can't tell if the poem is really that awful intentionally, or if it was just Mr. Leshs' delivery that made it seem hilarious.

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Margaret Cross MARGARET CROSS was born in Ohio, raised in Florida, and currently resides in New York City, where she is a singer and actress. She is a Florida State University graduate, where she studied music journalism, history, and philosophy. Her CD reviews can be found on Music.Com and Clovis Records. She enjoys comic books, ukulele, and recently discovered an enthusiasm for fireworks.



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