On the Fringe

Theater LaB finds itself a good home in subUrbia

Bogosian's forte is creating characters too vulnerable to be merely crude, too confused to be merely detritus and too revealing to be merely types. Amid the mordant taunts, obsessive takes and immature posturings, his characters are strangely idealistic, romantic even, and however warped or damning or uncomplicated they may seem to be, they resonate because of the depths of their feelings. But more than this, in subUrbia, like in all his plays, Bogosian is ultimately interested in the American dream and how it can become a nightmare, in how people face up to, escape and reinvent themselves and in how much of life is bound up with connections, both made and missed. subUrbia is so piercingly funny that it is, finally, the stuff of tragedy, especially in the absurd, tough ending. What happens then, along with who gets the last word, is terrifically grim.

subUrbia is an inspired choice for Theater LaB: the company's intimate space and urbane audience match up perfectly with Bogosian's concerns. And from the cigarettes the cast lights in the dark of scene changes to the head-banging music of the soundtrack to the tableau of a curtain call, director Ed Muth finds the pulse of things again and again. With unerring confidence, Muth raises and lowers Bogosian's vividly mercurial intensity; he's so in rapport with the text, and the show feels so voyeuristic, that if I didn't know better, I'd swear Muth was just out of high school himself.

Rodolphe N. Zarka and John Delulio's set is a bodega of a convenience store, definitely the worse for wear. What passes for the storefront window is an intentionally shoddy, graffiti-laden mural of a counter scene. To the side of the store are a mangled public telephone and significant garbage. Even the store's lettering is scruffy and ironic. The set is a rundown marvel.

Exhibiting none of the self-indulgent excesses that have frequently ruined past efforts, Travis Ammons gives a deeply sympathetic performance as the burdened Jeff. Totally uninhibited, Randy Sparks as Buff winningly displays cheery energized abandon; he's id gone all gnarly. Christopher McDowell seethes with self-loathing as the self-destructive Tim, the actor's considerable pretty-boy good looks not getting in the way at all. Crystal Calderoni is a heartbreaker as the needily assertive fox, Sooze. The rest of the ensemble is more than proficient. Theater LaB's production of Bogosian's brilliant play is so scintillating that you don't even mind the strained Pakistani accents.

subUrbia plays through April 14 at Theater LaB, 1706 Alamo, 868-7516.

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