Trouble, directed by Michael Alvarez as part of The New York Musical Theatre Festival, opens on a minimally-set stage; only a white table and red Solo cups – things familiar at every underage party – are used as props. The stage remains that blasé throughout the play’s entirety – something I found almost distracting in some sense. But the actors themselves were there to set the stage in vibrant clothing as they sang and danced their way into the first scene.
In a short span of time, we are introduced to two couples: preppy Hannah (Abbe Tanenbaum) and uninterested James (Davi Santos), and disturbed Jen (Sara Kapner) and loving Nick (Justin Stein). It is apparent from the get-go that James has strong sexual feelings for his ex, Sarah (Katie Mack), and that Hannah has a strange history with her step-brother, Ben (Wesley Tunison). While the play is set to be at Any-High School-USA, the sexual overtones are slightly less obvious than that of an X-rated film. The entire first act centers on sex, whether by forced innuendos or superfluous nudity.
It’s not long before James breaks up with the too-upbeat (and uptight), Hannah, for easier pastures, and Hannah runs to her step-brother, with whom we learn she’s already had sex. Since it is 2012, no high school is complete without its resident gay, Joe (Daniel Quadrino) – possibly the most refreshing and talented of the bunch – and his crush on the alpha male, Chris (Matthew J. Riordan). Joe’s solo, “I Stalk You a Little Bit,” offers somewhat clunky lyrics, but overall, a comedic relief and fantastic vocals.
Joe’s biggest wish comes true when Chris returns his feelings – but not before a brief nude scene. Though I am still young enough to remember my high school days quite vividly, I couldn’t help but feel like an appalled mother reacting to her child. The scene was an unnecessary attention grabber – one that didn’t benefit the play or the character.
While Joe is living out his dream, the rest of the couples briefly touch on internal problems, such as Jen’s suicide attempt after her mother’s death, Nick’s imminent family move out of state, Hannah’s need for perfection, and Sarah’s failed attempt to thwart off James’ attempt to woo her.
The first act ends with each of the four couples engaging in sex. At this point, the white table has been replaced by a white bed and I was wondering where the play was going. What exactly is the “trouble”: the underage drinking and sexual acts that the characters partake in, or the underlying issues that have been alluded to, yet swept under the rug?
Act two opens with a “morning after” scene of each couple (and a fantastic dance step). Hannah steals the second act with her angry solo where she berates James in front of their schoolmates. Her strong voice and believability redeem her character’s overdramatic portrayal in act one – something I assume is more the director’s fault than the actor’s.
As the relationships get more complicated, the music starts to take a more emotional turn, with lyrics like, “I love you /God, I love you,” and “I need courage to face today.” Interpretive dancers were added, but felt out of place, almost overwhelming the stage and belittling the empathy that the audience is trying to feel for the characters. I questioned the director’s motives several times throughout the play as his taste for the dramatic far exceeded my tastes.
Though the characters didn’t all live happily ever after, their troubles were essentially resolved by the final song. But I still left the theater confused. While I did enjoy the solid acting and catchy tunes, I was “troubled” as to what I was supposed to take away from the play. It felt like a lot of nudity followed by a lot of unwarranted theatrics. Or maybe that’s just high school.
Directed by Michael Alvarez
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater
One remaining performance, Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 at 5 p.m.