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Rob Nash in Holy Cross Sucks!
(Photo © Richard DiBella)
Remember high school? Those awkward years spent trying to fit in, make friends, get laid, and discover just who it is you really are? Rob Nash's amusing solo show Holy Cross Sucks!, subtitled "A Comedy about the Tragedy of High School," takes you back to those tortured years, albeit with far more laughs and melodramatic turns per minute than you probably experienced.

Set in Houston and Manhattan from 1981 through 1985, the show tracks the lives of three students -- Ben Collins, George Daly, and Johnny Down -- during their four-year stint at Holy Cross High. The three share detention on the first day of their freshman year and form an unlikely friendship based on the fact that all are self-described "non-conformists." As a sign of solidarity, they cut the logos off of their polo shirts.

In addition to this central trio, the writer/performer plays over a dozen characters of various ages and genders. We meet Maria and Jennifer from Holy Cross's sister school, Our Lady of Suffering; the parents of several different characters; the boys' favorite teacher, Mr. Smith, and his "roommate" Marcus; et al. Nash relishes playing recognizable types -- Ben is the "fat kid," George is "the homo," and Johnny is "the punk" -- but he fleshes out these characters so that they are not merely one-dimensional. However, some of the secondary characters remain stereotypes, such as a nerd called Norman Normal.

Director Jeff Calhoun has no doubt contributed to the sharpness of the actor's transitions from character to character, which sometimes occur at dizzying speed. Nash has a buoyant energy that's infectious and a delightfully comic delivery. He's less adept at conveying depth of emotion, though, and some of the more serious scenes suffer as a result.

Wilson Chin's scenic design offers an exquisite aerial view of a classroom that's rendered in lifelike detail but is set at a skewed angle to suggest an off-kilter viewpoint appropriate to the show. Jeff Croiter's lighting is subtly evocative, as is Richard DiBella's projection design. The music that rocks the Ars Nova house as part of Jorge Muelle's sound design includes such '80s tunes as Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" and "Purple Rain," the theme song to Chariots of Fire, and -- of course -- Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." No matter what you think of the show, you may go home craving the soundtrack.

As the characters in Holy Cross Sucks! age, we see them grow apart and then come back together. Individually or as a group, they face all manner of ethical dilemmas and angst-generating events. But though some conflict is obviously necessary, by show's end, you may wish that Nash had cut down on the number of dramatic incidents -- a character coming out of the closet, an unwanted pregnancy, a marriage proposal, sex with a pop star, sex with a character's stepmother, a gay bashing, a wedding, three deaths, and so on -- that occur during the four-year span of the play.

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