nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
June 9, 2009
Gregory Moss's punkplay is fun, insightful, and jagged around the edges. The action can appear out of nowhere and then swerves away when you think you know what's coming next. It can be a little confusing at times, but like that ratty Sex Pistols shirt my friend wore out in high school, I'm guessing the rips were put there on purpose.
The best thing about punkplay is the fine work done by the two lead actors: Alex Anfanger (as Duck) and Michael Zegen (as Mickey). Duck begins the play as a rebellious, scared kid whose father just kicked him out of the house. He asks to stay with Mickey, his more straitlaced and naïve friend. Scene by scene we watch these kids slowly morph into punk rockers together. They change their looks, they form a band, their characters evolve. This transition is engineered brilliantly by both Anfanger and Zegen and infused with royal helpings of heart, insecurity, teen angst, and pubescent uncertainty. Their friendship is very rocky and often hurtful and both actors do very rich, believable, and hilarious work.
Of course, they have a wealth of good material to work with. Moss's script is full of brilliant dialogue (example, Mickey explains to Duck that an IUD is a test you take so you don't have to finish high school). Bullies, the mysteries of sex, and the tricky negotiations of teen friendship are all paraded out in weird, unexpected, and funny ways. As the boys transform into punk rockers, Mickey's room transforms as well (innovated by set designer Lee Savage).
But I was a little distracted by broken expectations regarding the role of music as I enjoyed the show. When I read the publicity synopsis about two teen boys discovering punk rock, I expected a scene where they listen to the music and it blows their minds. I kept waiting gleefully for the big mythic "aha" moment of "This is IT!!" There is, in fact, a voiceover intro to the play that describes a scenario much like what I anticipated. But for Duck and Mickey, if there is a precise turning point, it isn't shared with the audience.
However, another angle of the play is that punk rock can sometimes be...well, not so much about the actual music from which it claims inspiration. It can be a fashion statement, an anarchist state of mind, or an effort to distinguish oneself as more individual than that despised status quo. So punk rock music, which I expected to drive through the play like a jackhammer, is loudly absent and only used to accessorize scene transitions and costume changes (neatly integrated into the world by director Davis McCallum). From press materials I learned that the "Track Listing" of song titles in the program is supposed to tell us that each scene represents a song, like on a mixtape, but we don't actually hear those songs (unless a snippet is used for transition). For better or worse, the play made me noticeably hungry for the music it held back.
In short, punkplay is more complex than I expected. But it wouldn't be a Clubbed Thumb production without something to grapple with. The plays they produce must be funny, strange, and provocative. punkplay is hilarious—no matter what else you take away from it, unless you somehow skipped your teenage years, you will definitely laugh a lot. It is not the play I thought it would be and it is told in an often challenging way. Like a good song, don't expect everything to get explained or make sense. But this is what makes Clubbed Thumb's productions so unique, and after all, behaving out of order is so much more punk rock.