Stupid Kids

Nicholas Ray’s 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause is both the inspiration and the principal referent for this fast-paced yet thoughtful Roadworks Productions offering. First seen in Chicago in spring 1999 (a year after its off-Broadway premiere) and now remounted as part of the Theater on the Lake’s summer season, John C. Russell’s play–like the film–is a study of teenage identity crises. But Russell has updated the action to the 90s and dragged the movie’s intense erotic subtext out of the closet. His Jim and Judy–the hot young couple originally portrayed by James Dean and Natalie Wood–are blunt about the hormonal surges that bring them together, while their misfit proteges, a boy and a girl, are unquestionably queer (in contrast to the sexual ambiguity of Sal Mineo’s character in Rebel) and infatuated with their het comrades. Roadworks’ staging beefs up Russell’s script with MTV-style dance sequences and an ingenious set design, somewhat modified from last year: a modular arrangement of Joseph Cornell-like boxes filled with images of suburban teendom (school lockers, tiled toilets, plastic lawn ornaments) and video monitors playing flickering collages of scenes from Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild One, and other films and TV shows. These visual elements amplify the play’s bleak yet oddly entertaining vision of passionate, sometimes aimlessly violent adolescents struggling to forge authentic personalities amid the clutter of pop-culture icons in our media-saturated society. Theater on the Lake, Fullerton and Lake Shore Dr., 312-742-7994. Opens Wednesday, July 26, 8 PM. Through July 30: Thursday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 4 PM. $10.

–Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited theater still.