Punk? Or Poser?

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"punkplay" Photo credit: Gary Leonard

Remember being a teenager?

If you are now or ever were a teenager, you've probably had to navigate some tricky social waters. Who's cool? Who's a poser? Who are your people?

Those are some of the questions at the heart of Circle X's production of "punkplay" ... but in a very particular time period.

It's spring of 1985. We're in the heart of the Reagan era. We're in some teenager's bedroom in some small town. Two boys are hanging out and trying to figure out what's cool. They don't want to be preppies - god forbid! - or meatheads. They're looking for something with an edge, something that feels real. What about punk?

Playwright Gregory S. Moss writes a surprisingly sweet year-in-the-life play about two boys trying on the punk rebellion. It starts with the hair - a mohawk for one - a dyed pink shock of hair for the other. Then there's t-shirts, the posters, figuring out a sick name for their two person band - but that's just the image part.

Then they've got to figure out everything else: girls, porn, the cool punks (or so they seem) that they are modeling themselves on, and being teenagers - there's dabbling with intoxication. In this case a bizarre cough syrup induced hallucination where the whole room starts talking and a disturbingly sexy Ronald Reagan wants to get nasty. Super weird.

And, oh yeah, did I mention they're on roller skates? Yeah, they're on roller skates. Not because there's any roller skating per se but because what better way on a raised stage to capture the tenuous nature of the teen years than by walking around on wheels.

If you happened to be a teen in 1985 - you'll recognize this world deeply. If you ever smashed a record album or dabbled in a garage band or were an actual punk - you'll probably adore this play.

What's surprising about this coming of age tale is despite being terribly male - it's oddly sweet and innocent (well as innocent as being a teenaged punk can be).

Circle X's production is brilliantly designed. The bedroom is captured with the bland gusto of an eighties generic food aisle (remember those?). It's a white drywall box that's perched on tiny 2x4 legs as if to echo the fragility of those roller skates. The lighting feels like a punk basement club so don't be surprised when a bare halogen bulb is blaring in your eyes. And sound design? Let's just say the prologue is delivered from a boom box with a cassette tape.

Like punk music, you'll recognize the outer layers of this play. You'll get the teenage uncertainty, you'll shudder at remembering your own formative years. You'll get how these two boys fall into, and seemingly out of, a simple identity. But then the play pivots, it chases after something more profound and I'm not sure it makes it all the way there.

If you grew up in 80's - go. If you had a thing for punk then or now - go. If you want to see a really gifted cast bring surprising depth to what feels like it could descend into poser hell - go.

"punkplay" is at Circle X Theatre in Atwater Village through December 21st.

For info on the play and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theatre newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theatre.