Holy Cross Sucks!
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 8, 2005
Most of us remember our high school years for their life-changing discoveries and their debilitating awkwardness. We were extremely vulnerable, walking around with our hearts exposed, wearing our desires on our sleeves and our idealism like a groovy pair of shades. In the four-year odyssey, our bodies and minds go through a drastic change as we slowly (and sometimes painfully) begin to define who we are. Rob Nash’s Holy Cross Sucks! is a truly inspired look at this pinnacle time in our lives.
Told through the eyes of three boys who have united under a banner of nonconformity, Holy Cross Sucks! begins freshman year 1981 and goes straight through graduation. It is set in an all-boys Catholic high school in a middle class suburban neighborhood in West Houston. The boys, Johnny, George, and Ben, are “The Punk,” “The Fat Kid,” and “The Homo,” respectively. Johnny’s journey is that of an angst-driven teen trying to become a writer. George is struggling to emerge from the shadow of his domineering military father. Ben is trying to come to terms with his sexuality. All three are determined to be themselves but first they must discover what that is. Along the way we meet other high school stereotypes, including “The Slut," “The Virgin,” “The Nerd,” and “The Cool Teacher.”
Nash, who is the play's one-man ensemble, juxtaposes their tales in a fast and furious format. He switches back and forth from one character's voice and posture to another with the ease and skill of a carnival juggler. It is an absolutely stunning feat of focus and precision to behold. It is also apparent that Nash knows his main characters; that each one is a part of him and in some way influenced his own coming of age.
If you read the description of this show you may ask yourself what’s in this '80s high school story that I haven’t already seen in a John Hughes flick. Not much, for the most part—except Nash’s story is brutally honest and raw at times. This makes for some moments that are so real that I felt as if I was reliving episodes of my own adolescence. Some of his depictions of teenage sex are particularly biting.
Still, I think Nash could take his characters a little farther beyond their labels and offer a few more surprises when it comes to their actions and reactions. Also, while I found Nash’s fast pace impressive, he never lingered long enough on a single character or scene for me to make a connection. I was consistently left wanting more. Perhaps this is his intention, but I sometimes felt as if I were watching a music video of people’s lives.
The music for the show is a killer collage of '80s pop tunes. Sound designer Jorge Muelle does a great job with effects and Jeff Croiter’s lights provide some very attractive movement between scenes and between inner thoughts and conversation. Wilson Chin’s 3-D backdrop design of a classroom is also very striking. Finally, Jeff Calhoun’s direction is a firm and steady tug to the play’s conclusion.
Ultimately, Holy Cross Sucks! is about three teens who have made the “…passionate choice to fearlessly be themselves.” Being ourselves is a goal we should all be reminded of whether we are teenagers or grown-ups. Nash not only deserves the highest praise for his flawless performance but also for offering us this important universal theme.