John and Greg's High School Reunion
nytheatre.com review by Jason Jacobs
August 16, 2009
When we meet the heroes of John and Greg's High School Reunion, the loser buddies (John Halbach and Greg Ayers respectively play the titles roles) sit in their apartment, pondering the disappointment of their late 20s. Since high school graduation, life has passed them both by. While John's cousin enjoys his second home, John can barely figure out how to pay the cable bill. Meanwhile, celibate Greg stays home, blogging and creating The Secret-inspired collages of his fantasies (including Hugh Jackman and unicorns), without every going on a real date. Sorting through unpaid bills, the duo stumble upon a big surprise: an invitation to their 10-year high school reunion happening...surprise! Tonight! Will they go? The dilemma spurs a series of memories about their unfortunate but comedic high school past.
Before you can say Breakfast Club, the team is portraying a veritable yearbook full of the usual high school stereotypes: vain and vacuous cheerleader Amanda, who's sucking face with dumb bully, Brent; lisping nerd Marie, futilely chasing closeted Greg; the verbally inept principle; the butch woman gym coach; a thick-accented Japanese student. John recalls his embarrassing failures at wooing Amanda, while Greg struggles to maintain dignity despite a constant barrage of name-calling. There's an extensive replay of the entire senior talent show, including a sock puppet ventriloquist, a ridiculous hip-hop dance, and an interpretation of a scene from Good Will Hunting. When the boys at last arrive at their reunion, none of their classmates has really changed. Still, revisiting their memories helps our heroes to realize that, despite the traumas of the past, what matters is that they try to make the best of their lives now.
Halbach and Ayers bring a lot of energy, commitment, and sweat to their performances. Sweet-faced Halbach easily disappears behind his characterizations, while Ayers's biting persona tends to show through all of his roles. As a comic duo, they have good chemistry; but for a piece that's essentially a gallery of stereotypes, none of the characterizations was realized enough or extreme enough for me to find them genuinely funny, and too often their script feels like a chain of loosely connected, overwritten episodes that don't go anywhere.
As a fellow high school survivor, I'd welcome a unique perspective on the experience, but I saw nothing that I haven't seen in hundreds of movies, TV shows, and plays on the subject—only the songs, dancing, and fashions have changed. In fact, sound designer Jason McKelvy's period song choices earn some of the biggest laughs. Choreographer Dax Valdes has fun with the hip-hop moves, executed by the actors with appropriate white-boy goofiness. Katie Mackenzie's simple costume pieces do a good job at evoking the grungy '90s, but without fully realized costumes, no illusion is achieved by sending the actors offstage to change wigs or hats. Director Lexie Pregosin could help by providing more precise staging and comic timing, and not allowing the pace to lag both within and between scenes. That said, much of the audience seemed to really enjoy the show, but personally I'm not so interested in going back to school if there's not something new to learn.