The lights come up on a bleached-platinum blond Rob Nash, dressed in baggy jeans, a dark, faded T-shirt and worn-down, butter-soft sneakers. The black stage is practically empty; in one corner lies a long black box; in another stands a chair. That's it. But Freshman Year Sucks! -- Nash's fast-paced, efficient one-man play -- is the kind of play for which minimalism was made. Under the direction of Gregory Gunter, Nash creates 26 extremely different characters on Stages' stage -- and in doing so, re-creates his own experiences at Houston's Strake Jesuit College Prep School.
At the center of the story are Ben, George and Johnny, three high school misanthropes who find themselves bound together because they are "nonconformists" -- the phrase preferred by Johnny, the deep-voiced poet of the group. Of course, hot-bodied Johnny also knows that his two best buds -- Ben, who's gay and effeminate though trying desperately not to be, and squeaky-voiced George, the gawky, tenderhearted goofball -- are "chick repellent." But Johnny sticks with them, and the trio faces high school hazards such as bad grades, freshman hazing, girls, sex, booze, bad parents and creepy teachers.
The students' parents run the gamut from a daddy full of Texas oil machismo -- he doesn't trust those "Mary-worshiping" Catholics one iota -- to a high-strung mother who can't operate the microwave without help from the servants or her son. Nash's Jesuits equal the parents in strangeness. Amazingly, in three short trips across the stage, Nash is able to capture the hitch-stepped, lanky amble of a drama-loving history teacher, the persnickety, sour face of the algebra instructor, and the slow, good-natured grin of the boys' favorite, the teacher who knows about poetry, love and Ben's sexuality.
Nash doesn't shine a whole new light on the demoralizing dilemmas of high school coming-of-age, but the way in which he tells this age-old story -- jumping from the skin of a suave but boorish high school bully to a purring, sexy secretary with the shift of a hip and a tilt of his chin -- is charming and often hysterically funny.
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Freshman Year Sucks! runs through July 12 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, Suite 101, 52-