'Teen Blue': alienation of another kind


Last fall, the Bowman Ensemble initiated an admirable project. The company, now in its sixth season in residence at McDonogh School, conducted acting workshops with high school students at the school. Out of these workshops, Matthew Ramsay, Bowman's resident playwright, forged a play called "Teen Blue," which was presented at McDonogh in January.

I imagine the collaboration was enjoyable, but the production it engendered -- which has been revived, under Ramsay's direction, as part of Bowman's regular season -- is a fragmented, confusing work, rife with loose ends.

The action begins at Face-Up Academy, a self-proclaimed "youth betterment center" that specializes in curing teen-age angst, or, as it's called at the academy, "teen blue." But most of the teen-agers we meet here are far from angst-ridden. Several are so peppy they burst into an enthusiastic song about "teen blue" even before one of the academy's shrinks teaches them the official Face-Up anthem.

The plot is more nonsensical yet. The academy's janitor, a menacing figure named Zorn (Randolph Hadaway), turns out to be in league with a band of bug-faced aliens from outer space. With the aid of the academy's chief psychiatrist, Dr. Choko (Reggie Meneses), Zorn and the aliens are abducting Face-Up's teen-age clientele.

One of the teens gets wind of these nefarious goings-on, however, and he and three others make their escape. The rest of the play is a chase scene, with Dr. Choko and a trio of aliens in hot pursuit.

Lots of the production's details don't make sense. Why, for example, is most of the decor painted blue at the various places where the teens stop -- the cash register at McDonald's, the teddy bear belonging to the desk clerk at the motel? Are these establishments supposed to be in league with the academy, or perhaps with the aliens?

More significantly, just what do the aliens want with these kids? And why did Dr. Choko team up with this bug-faced crew? He seems to be miserable and nearly breaks down near the end of the play. So what's in it for him?

Admittedly, when I saw the performance in Saturday night's record-setting heat -- which was not lessened by Bowman's ineffectual air-conditioning system -- the cast was struggling against temperature and humidity more debilitating than the play's trance-inducing extra-terrestrials.

Against these meteorological -- and textual -- odds, several performers did their best, including Meneses, Hadaway, Ron Bopst, Brad Reiss, Priya Soni and Jason Yaffe. And, as the teen-ager who leads the escape, Craig D'Alessio deserves commendation for conveying more angst than most of the show's purported sufferers of "teen blue."

As an educational experience, "Teen Blue" probably was of some value to the students involved. As a finished script, it's an episodic, incoherent muddle. Playwright Ramsay may have been trying to make a serious comment about teen-age problems, or maybe he was trying to spoof grade-Z horror movies about inter-galactic aliens. One thing's for sure -- what he came up with is definitely alien.


Where: Moreland Auditorium, McDonogh School, 8600 McDonogh Road, Owings Mills

When: 8 p.m. Today through Saturday and July 26-29; 7 p.m. Sunday; through July 29

Tickets: $12 (except the July 22 gala, when tickets are $35)

Call: (410) 889-0406

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