Tale of US lowlife is a real highlight

Review by Paul Nelson

A RAW slice of American low life is to be seen at the Wimbledon Studio, where the breathtaking Eric Bogosian play subUrbia is being given excellent treatment by St Mary's University of Minnesota School of Arts.

I always look forward to these annual visits by this enterprising group and have not yet been disappointed. Americans are always exciting to us Brits, and largely they are natural actors. There are performances in this present batch that will pop your eyes out. This year's effort is frankly brilliant. A director new to the company, Judy Myers, has taken this complex and deeply thoughtful play and given it a life that I would never have thought would have appealed to audiences in this country, but such is her faith in the subject, her zeal for theatre and her handling of her cast, that the evening becomes one of great moment.

The play deals with a young element of Americana that frighteningly could happen here. These people are not dropouts, they have reached a stage in their education where, for one reason or another, the process has been arrested. Mainly, in the funds department, I do really believe. For while they have the intelligence to get on in life, their means to pay for the investment in their future is denied them. The reason I say this could easily happen here is the short sighted attitude which prevails that in order to be a student you must be prepared to take on debts that you may never be able to repay. Education, like air, is life giving and should be available to all.

So far there has not been one single instance of human development that does not owe its existence to it. Beware governments. Educate, educate, educate, and don't charge for it. Bogosian's play opens at the stalling point of several young people's development. They are intelligent, can communicate with ease, and have ideas. Theirs, however, is an existence not to be envied.

At the same time as opportunities for advancement and improvement turn up so do the chances of experimenting with drugs and booze. Also, there is always on the periphery, the opportunity to get rich quick, and one of their number, who turns out to be the catalyst of the plot, has gone down this path. He is a rock star and he was taken up by a recording company from the word go, when he was more or less fooling around with a guitar. Opportunities open up with his arrival. Lyrics need to be written, music composed, tours arranged. Jobs for the boys? Hardly.

This, along with the presence of a Vietnam vet, whose own problems have to be worked through, provides one of the most compelling dramas you will see. Not one to give away the plot, all I can allow you to know is that the greater forces in life, love and death are explored with deep humanity and an almost spontaneous attitude of compassion. It is a truly uplifting experience.

The cast, as I mentioned last time I wrote about the School of Arts, are not necessarily wanting to take up acting as a profession. The learning process of theatre as a science, insists that the student has to go through the acting process. Here you will see performances that are both naïve and knowledgeable. It is a satisfying experience.

The play contains language that I can hardly describe. Strong is too light a word. Only once have I heard language like it, and that was when, as an experiment, I was taken to the lower East Side of New York some thirty years ago and heard similar turns of phrase. It is raw and certainly not for those who easily blush. It is also relentless so that by half time one is almost completely inured to it.

God knows, I do hope that sort of language does not become the norm in this country. You will certainly be exposed to enough bad language in this play to completely double your present vocabulary. However, it is the zeal of the company that is on trial here, and you will find the play extraordinarily moving. Scenes are handled with enormous sensitivity by both cast and director, and heed this warning, it is only available to you until this Saturday (Oct 27th).

I am glad I saw it. I would never have known what I had missed, admittedly, but knowing now what I saw and heard, I am grateful yet again to St Mary's for one of the better theatrical experiences of my theatregoing career. Well worth a detour. Go.