Deron Bos & Hilary Ketchum.  Photo: Betsy Seder

OVO presents

THE GIFTED PROGRAM

By RUBEN CARABAJAL

Center Stage

48 West 21 Street, 4th Floor

NYC

(212) 206.1515 or www.smarttix.com

www.ovoland.com

 

January 30 Ė February 23 (special, added Monday Feb. 17 perf.)

 

Directed By MIKE SHAPIRO

Production Stage Manager - Samone B. Weissman

Set Design - Susan Barras

Lighting Design - Steve O'Shea

Costume Design - Renee Hughes

Sound Design - Ruben Carbajal, Sean Modica, Jeremy Schwartz

Sound Engineer - Russ Kaplan

Choreography - Nick Garrison

Dance Captain - Hilary Ketchum

Fight Captain - Brenton Popolizio

Press - Publicity Outfitters

 

The Cast

The Dungeons & Dragons Club:

Paul Wiltsey Deron Bos

Bill Noel Sean Modica

Joey Westritch Brenton Popolizio

Lester Suh Aaron Yoo

 

Washington High:

Tim Shawhan and Steve Marona Jeffrey Emerson

Candy Krimmer and Melody Kriling Hilary Ketchum

Ricky Redstone, Coach, Phil Wainright, etc. Jeremy Schwartz

Shelly Nesrick and Brenda Hatch Ari Vena

Cyndi Stearns and Ms. Roland Mary Wigmore

 

Ah, High School in the 1980ís. What a culturally vapid time it was! Madonna had launched a million shapeless girls on a shameless course of wearing torn mesh, lingerie, and ugly miniskirts, even as they clamored for bad dye jobs and tied rags in their hair. Yet these, these were the popular kids of the day. Even so it was, it seems, in the land of Ruben Carabajalís very witty THE GIFTED PROGRAM, being presented by Ovo.

 

I had a lot of fun at THE GIFTED PROGRAM. Set in 1986 Racine, WI, this is really Any High School, USA in terms of the universal humor. The kids who play Dungeons and Dragons, with few exceptions, are glaringly unable to integrate into even the unhip cliques around school. The punk teens are moody or violent, the stoners are burn outs, and the jocks are, well the jocks, and they hang out with the cheerleaders. The assorted varieties of struggling teen species are dressed appropriately here, and there is period music from The Violent Femmes (the obligatory "Add it Up"), Bauhaus, and others, as well as an all-out dance number choreographed to Gary Numanís "Cars" just to add an extra layer of humor to the raucous proceedings. In terms of wrappings, it makes a pleasant package.

 

Then there is the story. It is so simple, but so essentially plausible at its core that the interplay amongst the characters becomes credible when imbued with the youthful dialogue and energy at work here. Basically, we meet a bunch of guys who have been put into a regular public school after the termination of the local "gifted" program. The foursome, played by Deron Bos, Sean Modica, Brenton Popolizio and Aaron Yoo, spend free time plotting D&D in their respective basements, but all play stops when it is time for their favorite radio show, a local love song request program. It is on this show that a mysterious character named P.W. has been making dedications to a lady simply known as Cyndi. When one of the D&D club, Joey is basically assigned a new friend, Steve (Jeffrey Emerson), the jig is up, and the former members of the gifted program fear for their lives.

 

What really makes THE GIFTED PROGRAM work is the coordinated group effort. Jeremy Schwartz, as the local deejay, the coach, and a slew of other folks, has an omnipresent, distinctive voice and manner that carries things a step above. The kids at the core, the "gifted," are great. Be they dorks or nerds or bookworms, or whatever, they play that stringy, greasy hair to the hilt. Brenton Popolizio, as the lone punker of the quartet, plays Joey as the giddy adolescent he should be when an anonymous girl (Hilary Ketchum) calls him and announces that he sounds cute. In her dual role as a cool girl Ms. Ketchum, along with Ari Vena, unleashes venom at our heroic P.W. just because he is who he is. I donít know about you, but that sure sounds like high school to me!

 

THE GIFTED PROGRAM offers some great laughs, and some unfortunate truths in humor-coated packaging. If you donít smile at this show, it may be time to see about getting some medication!

 

- Kessa De Santis -

 

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