Chicago Sun-Times

‘Punk Rock’ exceptiona­lly disquietin­g at Griffin Theatre


resembles “Spring Awakening” and several American plays that have dealt with the 1999 high school massacre in Columbine, Colorado, for while bullying and psychologi­cal games are the initial weapons among these students (and they are harrowing enough), a gun eventually enters the picture.

Most of the action unfolds in the school’s gothic-style library (Joe Schermoly’s set is ideal). This is wherewilli­am Carlisle (Joey debettenco­urt), first chats up Lilly Cahill (Leah Karpel), the petite, quietly sexy, fashionabl­y outfitted (and troubled) “new girl,” who has moved around a great deal because her father, a university professor, has been climbing the academic ladder. But while William can be her friend, he cannot be her lover. For that, Lilly turns to the handsome, more mature and more tacit lacrosse player, Nicholas Chatman (Brandon Ruiter).

Already a couple of sorts are the angry, bullying Bennett Francis (JJ Phillips), and classicall­y attractive Cissy Franks (Jess Berry). The two most obvious outcasts in the group are sensitive, warm-hearted Tanya Gleason (Leah Raidt), plagued by a poor body image, and Chadwick Meade (Ryan Heindl), the much-abused and seemingly wimpy scientific genius with an apt doomsday philosophy.

The tension among these raw-nerved, insecure, notquite-solidified adolescent­s builds gradually but inevitably towards a horrific showdown. But to its credit, that is not where “Punk Rock” ends. Stephens’ brilliant, searingly written epilogue is in many ways the most disquietin­g aspect of this play, and debettenco­urt acts the stuffings out of it, with invaluable assistance from Jeff Duhigg as Dr. Harvey, the psychiatri­st who arrives too late, but listens intently.

The individual and ensemble playing in this harrowing and disquietin­g play is exceptiona­l throughout. Interventi­on, of course, comes much too late.

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