If there's one universal truth, it's that high school is pretty much the worst for teens no matter what part of the world they live in. At least that's the message Australian playwright Declan Greene wants us to believe in his provocative play Moth, making its U.S. premiere at Studio Theatre's 2ndStage theater.
Although the idea of kids who act differently being bullied by their peers is nothing new, Greene's script explores a fresh and interesting tapestry of ideas that interrelate in a free, associative way.
The two-person play revolves around the anime-obsessed Sebastian (David Nate Goldman) and Emo-wannabe Claryssa (Allie Villarreal) and explores the relationship between them. The pair fights almost like siblings, but it's made clear early on that these friends are profoundly dependent on each other for survival.
As the story begins, Claryssa is laying on what appears to be the floor of her school and a somewhat exasperated Sebastian emerges from a locker — obviously not there by his own choice. The setting, we learn, is a metaphor for their desperate high school experiences and not everything is what it seems, as multiple realities begin to operate simultaneously.
A traumatic event shared by the two at the hands of high school thugs changes each of them, and the course of their friendship, forever. Villarreal sinks into Claryssa's depression with ease and shows a vulnerability that anyone who has ever been to high school can relate to. She shows great range when "fighting back" at one of her tormentors. Meanwhile, Goldman is terrific as the emotionally fed-up Sebastian, going from victim to the wild-eyed, apocalyptic messenger. He makes you frightened both for him and by him.
Director Tom Story hit the casting jackpot with the pairing of Goldman and Villarreal, as the two work seamlessly together, going in and out of different roles — playing everyone from teachers, to parents, to saints, to bullies and even giant robots. They make the overlapping characters believable while keeping Green's inventive, energetic storytelling truthful.
A first-time director, Story navigates the changing characters and scenes like an expert puzzle maker, so the tale never seems too convoluted or confusing, which given its ever-changing pieces, it could have easily become.
Set designer Colin K. Bills creates a simple but effective school hallway locale, with lockers that come into play with slamming sounds to create some of the turmoil between the characters. Other eerie sound effects and blaring red lighting is utilized to punctuate the visionary fantasies of Sebastian and Claryssa.
By play's end, you might not agree with Greene's choices for Sebastian and Claryssa, but Moth definitely gives you something to ponder and takes you back to your own high school days — no matter what side of the bully-bullied equation you were on — while you realize both high school and life beyond it hasn't changed all that much.