Reflections From the Breakfast Club Reviewed

The cast of this over-the-top parody of the movie “The Breakfast Club” has been transformed by the funk of the East Village into teenagers with much better defined adult problems than teenagers ever had.  The problems of social roles, peer pressure and inward acceptance are magnified under the looking glass of the Saturday detention microcosm.  But the basic problems stay the same, the voice of society with a capitol S, Principal Vernon, and the inability of the characters to come to grips with who they are.

John the asshole is played to a tee by Michael Van Steyn with hilarious mugging and non-stop one-upmanship (perhaps in his acting as much as his characterization).  Although John, described as the “rebel” or the “misfit” in the movie, was always the character most in control, he has advanced that tenuous position to becoming more or less the shrink of the group.  Although his persona is that of a bully, he comes perilously close to tough love in his total lack of actually taking advantage of anybody.  One can’t help but feel that he needs to pull a knife on someone, or at least steal something that the whole class has to pay for.  He needs a good old fashioned selfish screw-up such as actually taking and eating Brian’s lunch instead of launching into a philosophical monologue on the values embodied in the PBJ sandwich.

Nonetheless, Van Steyn’s mellowed punk part still works, if for nothing more than to make the intent of the play clear to the audience.  This play is about people who are lost and need to find themselves before they will find anything, or anybody, else.  Is this news in the East Village?  Perhaps there are people learning it, unlearning it, and re-learning it every day.

Speaking of Brian, the play’s script has transformed him from being more than just a nerd, but a foreigner as well.  Now he’s a nerd foreigner over-achiever.  Of course the over-achiever part is shared by all five players.  They all have to over-achieve to make up for shortcomings, real or perceived, because they are too insecure to simply accept themselves.  But Brian’s part adds a dimension that is most suitable to the New York location, and even to the East 4th location, a Ukrainian neighborhood.  For many new arrivals to the USA this is where they stop being college-educated professionals in their homeland and become dish-washers and house-cleaners in new-found America.  At least until they learn the ropes, which normally takes about a lifetime and a half.  Sometimes growing up seems to take just as long.

Rommel Quimson plays a good nerd, with a perpetual deer-in-the-headlight look, frustrated sex life and omnipresent fear of bad marks in school.  If his “breakdown” over his upcoming “B” grade is light-duty, maybe it’s meant to be that way.  After all, this is not “Death of a Salesman.”  Nightmares about missing the math exam might be a good addition; I had them for about ten years after graduating from college.  They are a real bitch.

Left to Right: Claire (the bitch)—Kelly Rauch; Brian (the foreigner)—Rommel Quimson; Andrew (the faggot)—Sean Doran; Allison (the fat girl)— Amorika Amoroso and John (the asshole)—Michael Van Steyn

Speaking of bitches, Kelly Rauch’s Claire is a joy to behold.  In the movie she is the “most popular girl in school,” or “the princess,” and she pulls that off well on stage.  Unfortunately she isn’t nearly manipulative enough to be the real bitch she could be.  But the audience is so greedy for her failure they don’t seem to miss the manipulation and vicious comebacks that mark the real bitch.  Nonetheless, she has a great frustrated hiss and a classic “I can’t believe it” look.  A very funny performance.<!–page–>

Andrew  the jock has migrated to Andrew the jock and faggot in the closet; although apparently the clever John knows the real truth and lets us all in on Andrew’s secret right from the start.  OK, you locals, remember it’s all right to be gay.  Does anybody in the Village need to be told this?  Wearing fetching wrestling tights, Sean Doran does an excellent job of being the pressured high school athlete forced to be the success his dad never was.  How sad, and how true.  But even his arm lock on John the asshole doesn’t capture the self confidence embodied in the outlaw.  Does one have to be a manipulative jerk to succeed?  Whatever happened to a good old football game where men were men and the winners just took the cheerleaders and went home?  Nothing is simple any more.

Wearing fetching wrestling tights, Sean Doran does an excellent job

Which brings us to Allison, the fat girl in the play and the “anti-social freak,” or “outcast” from the movie.  Amorika Amoroso does a lot with the part, considering she has hardly a line for the first half of the play.  But she does get to do some great pantomime with her props; concentrating on being freaky and anti-social and doing some really amazing things with an ordinary can of whipped cream (Was the flying spout scripted?  In any event, it worked for me…).  It is interesting that she is billed as “fat” in the play whereas she is more simply a psycho in the movie.  Which is worse?  Is being fat in NYC tantamount to dropping out of normal society?  Do fat people still get to vote?  An apt transformation.

In any event, Amoroso’s Broadway musical finale towards the end of the program sums up the whole story in a few brilliant lines.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember them–I don’t think they were rational. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it?  Rationality is Mr. Vernon, the principle (good job, Lon), and has no place in the world of teenagers.  And, more to the point, has to be kept in its place for all of us.

A commendable effort by all concerned and a production NYC to the core, “Breakfast Club” is an entertaining and sincere look at misfits who just might make it.  Check it out at the Krain on East 4th.

Further details and media in the Theatre database.

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