Campfire conversations, notorious fight scenes, ubiquitous teen romance — a new play showing at Boston Playwright’s Theatre from Oct. 6 to Oct. 16 includes these and more. The original play, written by Boston University graduate student J.C. Pankratz, is a cross between “Stranger Things,” “Lost” and “The Breakfast Club.”
It centers on of four teenagers, played by Abacus Dean-Polacheck, Charlotte Stowe, Maez Gordon and Sunny Feldman, struggling with personal battles and delinquency that ultimately result in their parents sending them to New Frontiers, a progressive “rehab” experience that immerses adolescents in wilderness therapy. The mission is led by wildly eccentric co-counselors Marty and Marty B, played by Ross Beschler and Jay Eddy, respectively.
Whether you’ve read up on the play before attending or not, get ready for unexpected turns. The first act focuses on the campers and their wacky leaders — and is done with refreshing, laugh-out-loud topical dialogue that exposes the awkward teenager-to-millennial interaction in today’s society. Co-counselor Marty remarks on how the children, once consumed by technology and progressive culture, now must be in a world devoid of Dunkin, Crunchwrap Supremes and Adderall.
Pankratz’s scintillating writing was overflowing with amusing cultural references. Lucia (Dean-Polacheck), the brainy, fact-regurgitating troubled camper, was against semantic gender assignments to inanimate objects, like calling a boat “she.”
The list of so-called progressive rules developed as a group collective by both the teens and the co-counselors entail a comprehensive guide of how to survive a retreat at New Frontiers. Jelly, played by Stowe, remains the comic relief, remarking on how the rules of their leaders are ridiculous and do more damage to the adolescents than good.
In a particularly captivating scene, director Shamus cleverly shows both the violent hiking mishap that destroys Marty’s foot and the uneasy pubescent moment of teen Quinn (Gordon) getting advice from fellow camper Ginger (Feldman) on how to put a tampon in correctly.
What could these two unfortunate circumstances possibly have in common? Teamwork, valued by the retreat, is needed to solve both problems. In a hilarious, ironic fashion, Pankratz’s witty writing brings the room to a joyful volume of audible laughter.
When a supernatural twist leads to the demise of the brutal co-counselors, the campers are thrilled to finally be rid of all authority. In a “Lord of the Flies”-esque sense, these four misfits are left to survive the mountainous greenscape of New Frontiers completely alone.
The rumination of Ginger’s guilt stages a division among the stranded, and a noteworthy performance by Stowe brought the audience to its feet during a monologue that created depth for this otherwise merely off-centered character.
The animosity between the teens reluctantly brings them closer together when their deeper problems are shared, and it’s revealed why some of them were forced into this retreat in the first place. Pankratz does this in a way not at all cheesy, but in a timely, purposeful manner that gives their story an added layer. Even at the tensest of moments, Stowe’s natural stage presence evokes genuine laughter from each member of the audience.
By the play’s end, after witnessing teens without social media, stories of past trauma and addiction and an animalistic resurrection of co-counselors that turns them into predatory creatures, you’ll no doubt leave the show feeling fulfilled.
Next time you’re looking for something to do on a Friday night, bring your BU ID to receive a student discount on an enriching viewing experience. But it has certainly turned me off from hiking forever.