Playwright Is Short on Solutions For Suburban Life He Scorns


Play by Eric Bogosian.

At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.

ERIC BOGOSIAN has long chronicled the neuroses of the alienated and disaffected in his series of one-man shows. In his first full-scale play (his previous ``Talk Radio'' was little more than a starring vehicle for himself), he has enlisted a large cast of talented performers to enact the current young generation's problems growing up in ``Suburbia.''

Considering that one of the characters says early in the play, ``I'm (expletive deleted) alienated,'' it's safe to say that the theme of Bogosian's work is not too far from the surface. It's set in the parking lot of a 7-11 (Derek McLane's realistic set practically invites you to order a Big Gulp) where the group congregates.

The play presents: Tim (Tim Guinee), whose stint in the Navy has left him directionless and an embittered racist; Buff (Steve Zahn), a spaced-out surfer dude without a beach; Jeff (Josh Hamilton), whose intellectual searching and ironic put-downs seem to indicate he is the character closest to the author; Sooze (Martha Plimpton), Jeff's restless girlfriend, who is desperate to escape to New York and become a performance artist; and Bee-Bee (Wendy Hoopes), a troubled girl eager to blend in with the rest of the group.

Although this group does little more than sit around and make rambling conversation, the play is crammed with incidents, the central one being the return visit of Pony (Zak Orth), who has gone off and become a rock star. His appearance prompts the members of the group into various reactions: Jeff is jealous of his success and masks it with snide put-downs, while Sooze is attracted by Pony's success as an artist. Buff mainly wants a ride in Pony's limousine.

One of the problems with ``Suburbia'' is that the target audience for the play probably left their suburban enclaves years ago to escape precisely these types of people. All of the characters onstage are silly or unpleasant; as Norman the 7-11 owner exclaims in one particularly frustrated moment, ``You people are so stupid. What's wrong with you?''

Although the playwright makes many cogent points about the deadening effects of suburbia, he really has no answers to this problem. And although his gift for sharply observed characterizations and amusing dialogue has not deserted him here, it becomes easy to wish that we were meeting these characters in his usual brief vignettes rather than this full-length work. He also seems to be trying too hard; at 2-1/2 hours, the play is needlessly attenuated, and the last part features several twists of plot and a melodramatic conclusion.

The young cast members play their parts expertly, with Steve Zahn scoring big laughs and even making his party-animal character rather endearing. The only wrong move is in the casting of Zak Orth as Pony; although he gives an ingratiating performance, he isn't believable enough as a rock star in today's video-oriented culture. Robert Falls, artistic director of Chicago's Goodman Theatre, has staged the work in a suitably propulsive manner, complete with loud rock music and sudden light flashes.

Bogosian has begun to reach a certain staleness of formula in his one-man shows, and his attempts at writing in a more conventional dramatic form are to be welcomed. If ``Suburbia'' doesn't fully work, there's enough of interest here to indicate that better things are to come from this gifted writer.

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