Yolande Ramsay for Curtains Up
Being young is hard; very hard. It is full of confusion, insecurity, with moments of intense emotions like apprehension and violence. This is the emotional setting for Beautiful City Theatre’s “Punk Rock”, now playing at the Centaur Theatre. The show features solid performances from a talented cast, recorded music from Montreal punk bands, and an atmosphere of ever-growing tension.
This unsettling show tells the story of seven students preparing for exams at a private school. They meet in an annex that is not frequented by other classmates. In this room, where, ideally, they try to evade the stress of school, confront social and personal antagonism. The students deal with friendships, sex, and the desperate need to fit in, in any way possible. Some of the characters try to create tension and violence; some try to alleviate or deflect; others cower. These are big problems and feelings being tackled by kids who lack the emotional equipment to deal with these matters.
Lilly (Rebecca Bauer) is the new student trying to make her way around her surroundings. She befriends the socially awkward William (Oliver Price), who spins tales to either create conversation or appear interesting. They are joined by jock Nicholas (Ryan Doherty) and Tanya (Victoria Hall) who is friend to all. The tension goes up with Bennett (Nicholas LePage), an aggressive bully who picks on the timid, such as geek Chadwick (Patrick Park). Bennett’s girlfriend, Cissy (Madeline Harvey), joins Bennett in his cruel games with giggly delight. But she is also a supportive friend to some of the other students. As the exam period approaches, the students act out their needs in healthy or painful ways. They try to communicate their fears and pain. Some listen; some do not; some only hear what they want to hear. The anxiety builds up to a disturbing denouement.
The performances are terrific. Mr. Price is excellent at the angst-filled William. His emotional break-down never rings false. Mr. LePage is electric as he ramps up the threat of soul-tearing violence with each appearance. Ms. Bauer is wonderful, making the complexity of growing up look so familiar and true. Ms. Harvey hits every note exactly right in portraying an insecure girl seeking love and belonging at any cost. Mr. Park presents a heartbreaking portrait of meekness; Ms. Hall gives an authentic, no frills take on the friend who tries to settle the tension. Mr. Doherty avoids the jock clichés and brings the warmth and tenderness that the some of the friends need.
In between scenes, the cast dons plain masks and act out the raging emotions that adolescents go through: fear, aggression, sex, and celebration. Music from Montréal punk bands Mooch, Irish Nails, Mental Fix, and The Costanzas blare out during these wordless performances. The set is spare with broken lockers, stacks of old books, and ladders leading up to a second level. The ladders seem to convey a symbolic escape route that the characters never take. The play is a bit too long. The text keeps its references to the school system of England, home of the playwright, Simon Stephens. But this is not a distraction. The intensity of the story and the powerful performances overcome these small quibbles.
Growing up is hard. For some the pain is very acute, even if there are friends around who try to help. “Punk Rock” gives a reminder of the difficulties of growing up regardless of the generation.
“Punk Rock”: presented by Beautiful City Theatre. Written by Simon Stephens. Directed by Calli Armstrong. Show runs until May 14, 2016 at the Centaur Theatre, 453 St-François-Xavier, Old Montreal. Tickets $35 to $20. Call the box office at 514-288-3161 or go to www.centaurtheatre.com
There will be a talk-back discussion with the director, cast, and crew after each performance.
Yolande Ramsay for Curtains Up