Ahmanson Theatre | 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. | Through April 22 | Tickets $25-95 | centertheatregroup.org
With the arrival of Green Day’s American Idiot, the rock musical has evolved and we get it in its purest form. Taken entirely from rock/punk band Green Day’s award-winning album American Idiot, the musical blends the rock concert and stage show brilliantly. Something of a Rent for this generation, the show is told with barely any dialogue, and while the first 10 minutes are a bit hard to follow (the lyrics aren’t always easy to understand for those not familiar with the album), it soon becomes an engrossing and relatable tale of disenfranchised and aimless young adults navigating a world that their parents don’t understand.
Three guys take center stage: Johnny (Van Hughes)—the leader of the pack, as it were—who spends his days with his friends Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) and Will (Jake Epstein) sitting on the couch, drinking and playing video games. Sick of a life that’s going nowhere, the three decide they are going to the city to change their lives. (They pack guitars so one assumes they are going to try to form a band?) But before they can leave, Will’s girlfriend Heather (Leslie McDonel) becomes pregnant and he has to stay behind. Johnny and Tunny take off for the city where Tunny eventually joins the army. Johnny, having now lost his two best friends, falls in love with a nameless girl called (coincidentally) Whatsername (Gabrielle McClinton) and then into a life of hard drugs—supplied to him by local drug dealer St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak.)
How the three deal with their various problems, react to the world around them and come out the other side (or not) is what gives this theatrical experience its weight. At a swift 100 minutes, American Idiot is a rip-roaring night of rock ‘n’ roll performed by a wildly game cast whose energy never wanes.
It’s hard to pick a standout because each performer is fantastic, but clearly Hughes (who performed the same role on Broadway opposite Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong) is the breakout cast member. Energetic, magnetic and sexy, he is the show’s heartbeat, and even when he succumbs to the demons around him, we root for him to battle them and redeem himself.
Scenic design by Christine Jones is mesmerizing with an industrialized set covered in televisions that morphs throughout the show thanks to the video/projection design by Darrel Maloney and lighting design by Kevin Adams. Director Michael Mayer smartly utilizes the space keeping the production moving swiftly, and the choreography by Steven Hoggett is infectious and even beautiful. (The “Extraordinary Girl” air ballet is gorgeous.)
All in all, your enjoyment of American Idiot might depend on your appreciation for Green Day’s music and/or a modern rock score. While I’m not a huge Green Day fan, nor was I overly familiar with the album, I went in with trepidation. But within the first 10 minutes I was sold, and by the end, I was on my feet applauding.
This is a story about growing up—in a world with more uncertainties and disillusionments than ever before. This isn’t the story about coming into your own in the cookie-cutter ‘50s. This is how kids today become adults while living in a confused, unforgiving world so overwhelmed by media, war, lies, cynicism and broken promises that it’s a wonder anyone survives. While this might seem to be a tale of whining and selfishness, ultimately it is a tale of renewal, acceptance and hope. —Kevin P. Taft
Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theatre | 5112 Lankershim Blvd., NoHo | Through April 15 | Tickets $30-34 | antaeus.org
It’s easy to think that the reality TV era is responsible for our culture’s fascination with fame, money, stars and sex; but early on in the Antaeus Company’s masterfully executed production of Chekhov’s darkly comic examination of unrequited love, it is clear these are age-old human obsessions. Much of the credit for this production’s success goes to director Andrew J. Traister, who has deftly navigated his gifted cast into the same fully realized world, one populated with actors and writers, all tangled in a complicated web of unreciprocated attractions that results in frustration, misery and worse.
The action is set on the fading country estate of patriarch Sorin (Gregory Itzin), as his celebrity sister, the famed actress Arkadina (Laura Wernette), comes to visit with her equally famous boyfriend, popular novelist Trigorin (Adrian LaTourelle). Arkadina’s son Treplev (Joe Delafield) is determined to “create new forms” of theater, and the opening scene finds Nina (Jules Wilcox), a lovely young actress dreaming of fame, performing Treplev’s experimental play in an outdoor theatre by the nearby lake. Arkadina loves Trigorin, who is fascinated by Nina, who falls for Trigorin while in a relationship with Treplev, who is adored by Masha, who ends up settling for schoolteacher Medvedenko (Patrick Wenk-Wolff).
In the company’s longstanding tradition, there are two casts. I saw the “Samovars” cast, and they were mostly magnificent, wringing wonderfully surprising nuances from the play’s heartbreaking relationships. Wernette’s Arkadina is an earthy, vain and thoroughly theatrical diva, clearly the center of whatever world she inhabits. Itzin is remarkable as the old Sorin, brewing with anger and regret just beneath his dodderingly avuncular façade. And Avery Clyde’s Masha is among the finest Chekhov performances I have ever seen, vainly covering her bleeding scab of a soul with a heart-rending bandage of laughter.
LaTourelle takes a risk making Trigorin so earnest and serious. It is hard to believe Arkadina would be so taken by this grim, stoic writer, or that he would have the self-awareness to know he will destroy the lovestruck Nina for no good reason.
The set, from Lechetti Design, and Jeremy Pivnick’s lights are effectively spare and versatile, and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes are sublimely detailed and gorgeous. The entire play is presented with such energy and artistry that the four acts fly by, and it is a shock to see it is already 10:30 when the abrupt and tragic ending hits. Chekhov’s masterpieces are notoriously difficult to pull off, and this latest gem from Antaeus is cause for celebration. —Christopher Cappiello