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Student Bodies

Rob Nash flits between characters, and time frames, in his hilarious high school comedies

It's 2013. Amy Carter is president. Rush Limbaugh's a senator. World war rages in the Middle East. And Fag Rock is the hippest new genre in popular music. So goes the future according to Rob Nash, creator of Junior Blues and Senioritis, the last two installments of his sweet and terrifically funny "Holy Cross Quadrilogy" about the angst and agonies of adolescents, loosely based on the writer's own experiences at Strake Jesuit but set in wildly fluctuating time periods.

Now at Bienvenue Theatre, these two one-acts close a long chapter in the lives of George, Ben and Johnny, three "nonconforming" high school boys (does such an animal exist?) who have acquired, over the years, a whole slew of adoring fans. I overheard one opening-night zealot coo that she'd driven all the way from Austin to catch the show.

It's no wonder that Nash has such a following. The writer-actor plays each and every one of the 30-plus characters in these one-man shows with a gleeful, energetic joy that is at once compassionate, ironic and richly textured. Not only is each character carefully drawn with nuance that manifests itself in the curve of Nash's spine, the smirk on his lips or twist of his wrists, but these characters also appear regularly on stage together, not in a series of monologues. Nash snaps with astonishing grace and speed from one to another as they bicker, tango, French-kiss and share bong hits, stomping their teenage way toward maturity.

Living in the past (and the future): Rob Nash re-creates the angst of high school one character at a time.
Living in the past (and the future): Rob Nash re-creates the angst of high school one character at a time.

There's Jenny, the silly, skinny, giggling valley girl who tosses her hair whenever she's upset and adores her best friend, Maria. Mr. Kant is the cowboy government teacher who strides across the classroom with a loose-limbed, bow-legged limp as he rails against politically charged "misnomers" such as "friendly fire" and "smart bombs." One of Nash's most exotic characters has to be Norman Normal, a sociopathic computer supergeek who attempts to dazzle girls with his impressive mental catalog on the ways of murder: "I could kill you with this pen, right now," he snorts with pride.

At the center of this quadrilogy, though, are Johnny and his best buds, George and Ben. The Kerouac-like Johnny is a tough as nails poet-kid who wants to be a real writer someday. But in Junior Blues, set in 2013, he struggles with the fact that his brother, Richard, is a soldier bunkered down in some far-off Middle East desert waiting for the bombs to drop. Richard, who is able to speak to his family via a pen-phone that transmits images and sound, advises his teen brother, Johnny, to do anything to avoid the draft, including "boff his buddy Ben."

Apparently gays still won't be allowed in the army 13 years from now. But Fag Rock will be all the rage and Fag Boy the hottest pop icon. AIDS is still around, and the Internet is still a pedophile's dream. Ben, who's gay, hooks up with all the wrong men on-line and learns a lesson about sex the hard way. Meanwhile, George, who was last seen in Sophomore Slump sleeping with his father's girlfriend, Julie Rose, is working on coming to terms with dear old Dad.

In Senioritis, the same group of characters have been thrown back in time, circa the 1950s. Each of Nash's one-acts happens in a different period. Freshman Year Sucks! reveals the excesses of the '80s, while Sophomore Slump covers the nihilistic '90s. This conceit underscores the universality of teenage pain: Who among us can't recall feeling, at some point during our adolescence, as if we were nothing but a raw walking nerve ending? But, even more interesting, skipping through the decades allows Nash to deepen his story by exploring the politics of the age.

In 1955 Ben is certainly not out of the closet. Instead, he trolls Hermann Park late at night looking for sex and trying to figure out who he is and why he's so different from his friends. In one astonishing scene Nash actually has Ben dancing the tango with the man of his dreams. Both characters spin across the stage fully imagined and somehow utterly real.

Johnny too struggles to find himself. He wants to be a poet, but everyone tells him that "writers don't come from Houston." They come from New York City and Chicago. He finally decides he wants to marry his girlfriend, Maria, but questions of culture and race make it harder than it would be today.

And poor George, who has struggled through school ending up with nothing but a "fistful of C's" to show for it, decides to enlist. In one of the funniest scenes of the night, Nash creates the drill sergeant from hell, who shouts the already submissive George into a puddle of cowering "Yes, Sergeant"s. Nash never skips a beat, slipping back and forth from the sergeant to George, pushing the idea of the one-man show to its most hilarious and impressive limits.

Nash's show is certainly worth a trip from Austin. Seeing as the show is being billed as "off-Broadway-bound," this might well be your last opportunity to catch it anyplace in Texas for a while.

Junior Blues andSenioritis run through January 30 at Bienvenue, 3722 Washington Avenue, (713)426-2626. $15-$20.

 
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