Kids these days have problems. No, seriously: There's teen pregnancy and substance abuse and mental issues and sexual pressure, in addition to all the "finding yourself" you're supposed to be doing in high school. These are problems that deserve a serious, thoughtful, mature approach, both in real life and when recreated on stage.
Unfortunately, Girls vs. Boys, which opened at the Arsht Center last weekend, approaches the heavy issues teens face with all the fumbling awkwardness of a freshman struggling to unhook his very first bra.
The plot of GvB focuses on a group of high schoolers, most going into their senior year. There's Casey (Nick Ley), a senior who pops mystery pills prescribed to him to quell his violent urges. His little sister Sam (Samantha Drucker) is a freshman who just wants to hang out with the cool older kids. Lane (Rachel Lipman) had an abortion, and now spends all her time wearing black leather and brooding with crossed arms. Her ex, Krueger (Luke Hamilton), apparently loses his mind about the abortion, turning into a weirdly evil villain over the course of the show, even as he strings along his current girlfriend, Kate (Shannon Draper). And then there's George (Kyle Axman), the popular party kid who's not-so-secretly all alone inside.
Are these difficult situations for teenagers to face? Sure. But they're also situations we've seen in teen dramas and after-school specials time and time again. And unfortunately, the writing in GVB lacks character development, never elevating the people we see on stage above the stereotypes they play, making the show feel more like an episode of Degrassi with a few awkward musical numbers mixed in.
That's a shame, because this show was meant to be a showcase of student talent itself. (All the actors are UM theater students.) And there is talent out there. Drucker's perky Sam came across as naive but not stupid -- one of the show's only breaks from stereotype. And Ley and Lipman had genuine romantic chemistry as two outcasts who find each other amid all the madness.
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But none of them could break free of the cliches weighing them down on stage. So when, at the story's climax, some truly dark stuff does go down, it feels like a dizzying hormonal mood swing -- one that's over almost as soon as it's begun, replaced with happy pop music about loving one another and trusting yourself.
Confusion, awkwardness, frustration -- these are common emotions for teens, but they're not enjoyable feelings to have in the theater. Ultimately, Girls vs. Boys suffers from the same affliction as its characters: a frustrating and awkward lack of maturity.
Girls vs. Boys runs through November 18.