I have to admit, in middle school I loved the band Green Day. I used to listen to them every night as I fell asleep. Something about their showy angst appealed to the angry tween in me I guess. Then I hit high school and my love turned to an intense hatred of what I viewed as their hyper-commercialized brand of punk rock. They weren’t punk enough for me. Fifteen years later, when I heard that Green Day’s American Idiot would be performed at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, I felt like I had finally reached a point somewhere between love and hate, from which I could view the show without bias. But the real question for me was whether or not a choreographed musical could truly embody the angst of a punk rock album.
. . .the cast and crew of this show did an excellent job creating a believable representation of a disenfranchised youth. . . I highly recommend it.
A stage adaptation of Green Day’s 2004 album, American Idiot, the musical of the same name, takes us back to an unspecified time “some years ago,” presumably soon after the events of 9/11. During the opening number, “American Idiot,” we are introduced to Johnny, Will, and Tunny, a trio of jaded young men unhappy with their stagnant lives in Suburbia, glued to their couches and televisions, and subject to the oppression and tyranny of parents, and even worse, stepparents.
Sean Deffley plays Johnny as a combination of enraged revolutionary and whiny, ineffectual youth; the perfect portrayal of an early aughts twenty-something struggling to find his way out of the complacency he’s been lulled into his whole life. After moving to the big city with Tunny, Johnny embraces a life of drugs in an attempt to both escape and fit in somewhere. He discovers a beautiful, rebellious girl, known only as Whatshername and portrayed by Heidi Carletti, who manages to exude a combination of confidence and vulnerability that brings depth to a character who might otherwise have remained unremarkable, and sings to her of his love in the ballad, “When It’s Time.” But through his budding heroin addiction, Johnny also discovers another side of himself, St. Jimmy, a demanding, narcissistic alter-ego bent only on self satisfaction at the expense of everything else in his life. Justin Monick’s St. Jimmy is both sneering and charismatic, a dark force moving Johnny to do things completely out of character.
Although the show focuses mostly on Johnny, we also see the alternate struggles of his friends as they each try to find their way in an increasingly frustrating world. Will (Adam Dienner) never even makes it out of the suburbs, as he discovers his girlfriend is pregnant before his buddies embark on their journey. Tunny (Jessie Hoffman) doesn’t find what he’s looking for in the city and, seduced by a recruitment commercial, he enlists and goes off to war.
The backdrop to all this is a set with ramps and levels reminiscent of a skate park, with stylized graffiti lyrics covering everything, including the floor. The set pieces were minimal but effective: a worn couch, a dilapidated bed with only a white sheet. Long bars of neon lighting surrounded the stage, frequently casting a harsh, almost blinding glow on the stage, reminiscent of the bright, jarring lights of commercialism.
I also really appreciated the closeness created by the thrust theatre stage in the intimate Sharadin Bigler Theatre, and its ability to bring you face to face with the actors. Walking into the theatre, there is a palpable sense of community amongst everyone involved in the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, including the audience, and it is clear they all have a true passion for the performing arts.
Green Day’s American Idiot, is a fast paced show in which much of the story is left to the song lyrics, but with the direction of Rich Repkoe and the choreography of Kristen Pontz, we are guided through a tale of three youths searching for some kind of meaning in the harshness of their reality. I still have my doubts that an art form so rehearsed and well planned can reproduce the essential bare-bones style of the punk genre, but I think the cast and crew of this show did an excellent job creating a believable representation of a disenfranchised youth, and if you are looking for an out of the ordinary theatre going experience, I highly recommend it.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Advisory: Language and adult themes.
Green Day’s American Idiot plays through August 6, 2016 at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, 320 Cocalico Street, Ephrata Community Park, Ephrata, PA, For more information, click here.