BWW Review: PUNK ROCK at The Odyssey Theatre Gets Top Marks for a Jolly Good Show
Admittedly, I went into the theatre blind. Although Punk Rock premiered in England around 2009, I had never seen the show before, and I always like to pop my new-show cherries with an open mind, so I make it a habit not to voyeur into them ahead of time. I refrained from doing any research prior to attending The Odyssey's opening night production last Saturday night, so I didn't know what I was in for.
Needless to say, I was disappointed during the first half of the show. I initially judged the first thirty minutes to be so aggressively cliché, dry, and trite that I wrote in my notes that the show was past the point of redemption. I figured I was going to be in for a bumpy, 90-minute, ride with no intermission. Oh, how wrong I was. I can emphatically say that never misjudged a play so much in my entire life.
Punk Rock is the very definition of a slow burning candle. More aptly put, a slow burning candle whose wick winds up being connected to a thousand pounds of dynamite that blows your face off without any warning. This is all intentional. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the lackadaisical start is very much a brilliantly planned scheme by playwright Simon Stephens to lull the audience into a false sense of security before he goes from 0 to balls the wall insane in a mere 2.8 seconds.
The show opens in one of the most boring settings imaginable: a library at a British prep school. We meet a group of students that Stephen seemingly pulled from the Big Book of Unoriginal Stock Characters. It takes multiple scenes to introduce the characters through their trite conversations with one another. It's apparent that these overachieving British students are stressing out about their final exams. The conversations are chalked full of dry British humor that American audiences are unsure whether or not to laugh at.
The show progresses, and not much happens beyond simple mundane conversations...
Then, without much warning, someone goes bonkers. Nobody sees it coming, and that's the beauty of it. I won't spoil the gut-wrenching surprises that wait to ambush you at the end of the story, but trust me: the wait is well worth it. The final scenes overcomes the triteness of the first part of the show.
How Was It?
Although it took a little longer than I would have liked for the water to boil, the wait was well worth it. It's smart that this production doesn't include an intermission, or else a good chunk of the audience would probably walk out halfway through, not knowing what they're about to miss. The final scenes are completely out of orbit with the beginning of the show, and that's very much the artistic point being made here.
We're introduced to a group of students, and we become a part of their day-to-day, mundane, low-stakes lives. Everyone in their group intimately knows one another. It appears to be just another day when, out of the blue, someone snaps and blood is shed.
After tragedies strike, we often ask ourselves how nobody could have seen the "warning signs." Hindsight is 20/20, we like to go back and point out everything that could have been done to stop acts of terror, mass shootings, or suicides. The friends and loved ones close to the perpetrators are often criticized for idly standing by and not addressing what appeared to be obvious red flags. This play makes it clear how easy it is to overlook these "warning signs."
The cast was solid. A standout of the night was Zachary Grant, who plays William, the kid who flies off the deep end after being rejected by a girl. Grant's effortless transition into pure maniacal insanity from a charming English schoolboy was reminiscent of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. He can turn on the scary like a light switch.
Jacob B. Gibson portrayed the school bully with a vulnerability that quite artfully made his nasty character incredibly easy to empathize with and love. Raven Scott played the school's warm-hearted new girl with a grace and friendliness that made it clear why so many schoolboys have crushes on her. Story Slaughter (if that is her real name) portrayed Tanya, a chick with a crush on her teacher, with a natural weirdness that could only come from somebody who calls herself "Story Slaughter". Miranda Wynne played Cissy, the high school bully's trophy girlfriend with a kindness that made me question why she was going out with the high school's resident jerk. Kenny Selvey embodied Chadwick as the charmingly befuddled and easily picked on character that he is. Nick Marini stepped into the shoes of Nicholas, the bully's friend, with a coolness that made the audience instantly love him. And lastly, Mark Daneri was a very convincing psychologist.
It takes time for this show to warm up, but just like life after high school, it gets better. You just have to have the patience to wait for it.
Who Should See It?
If you have an intellectual curiosity around Columbine, school shootings, or mass violence in general, this show is for you.
Parental Warning: This production features mature language, gunshots, and blood. It is recommended for mature audiences only.
How to See It
Punk Rock runs through May 14 at The Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. Tickets range from $25 to $34 and can be purchased here.
The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles, 90025.
Photos by Enci Box