David Crabb's autobiographical solo show Bad Kid is an actor's tour-de-force, and also an exploration of the Generation Y coming-of-age experience in middle America that's both hilarious and harrowing.
Crabb was born and raised in Texas, where his early awareness that he was "different" (i.e., gay) led him in his teens to find other kids as mixed up inside as he felt. He gravitated toward the goths, kids who wore wild clothes and haircuts, who drank too much and experimented with substances controlled and otherwise. In Bad Kid, he introduces us to many of them, slipping in and out of their various personas with a casual ease that's as lacking in artifice as it is loaded with precision. We meet Greg, his first gay buddy, who tried to teach him about condoms and anal sex in a way that you won't quickly forget. We meet Roxanne, four years older, the first friend "who gets you in adult trouble": her penchant for making everyday household items into recreational drugs provides more unforgettable moments. And then there's Zach, a skinhead who becomes, improbably but inextricably, David's best friend.
We also meet David's parents, loving and each struggling in their way to understand their son. The coming-out story involving David's dad is the emotional highlight of the play.
Bad Kid is co-written and directed by Josh Matthews; the staging is sharp and brilliantly timed, making great use of David Zeffren's stark, dramatic lighting design and an evocative soundscape by Steve Fontaine and Crabb himself. The writing is vivid, lively, and rich; here's young David's first encounter with the goth subculture at age 13:
Then I saw them. This group of kids starts to cross the street in front of us. I'd never seen kids like this. They're all wearing layers and layers of black clothes and heavy eyeliner and crazy hair styles. If you've never seen Goths in hot weather there's really nothing sadder. Their Manic Panic hair dye was dripping down their faces. The only girl in the group was in a velveteen gown and looked like she was about to pass out from heatstroke. This little guy in the middle was wearing a billowing floor-length cape. When it caught wind it looked like it was going to noose him. And then there was this one more New Wavey guy walking proudly in a purple Satin jacket, bleached bangs, blue eye shadow and a shell earring.
"Well, I'll be. They look like superheroes going to a funeral."
Come for the too-strange-to-be-fiction anecdotes and stay for the beautiful flashes of wisdom that our young hero grows into. Crabb's stage memoir is a dazzling entertainment and an off-kilter but entirely heartfelt reminiscence that we're lucky to eavesdrop on.