High School Hell: Zeitgeist Stage’s ‘Punk Rock’ has nothing to do with music

From left to right: James Fay, Alexandra Marie Harrington, Alana Osborn-Lief, and Phil Gillen
From left: James Fay, Alexandra Marie Harrington, Alana Osborn-Lief and Phil Gillen in “Punk Rock.”

Simon Stephens’ tale of teen angst glosses over the expected topics that challeneg 17-year-olds — sex, drugs and coming-of-age challenges — instead delving headfirst into a seething cauldron of adolescent rage that, sadly, begets violence.

We’ve seen these characters before. Think “The Breakfast Club,” but replace Molly Ringwald and company with a group of affluent British teens grappling with issues that run the gamut from bullying, humiliation and burning to get into Oxford. Then you have Zeitgeist Stage’s “Punk Rock.”

There’s Cissy (Alexandra Marie Harrington), the perfect blonde with the grades to back it all up; Bennett (James Fay), her insufferable, bullying boyfriend; Chadwick (Alex Levy), the genius loser who bears the brunt of Bennett’s ire; Nicholas (Diego Buscaglia), the token hot guy on campus; Lilly (Emily White), the fascinating new girl; Tanya (Alana Osborn-Lief), the sweet one; and William (Phil Gillen), the — seemingly — normal one.

Though it takes some time for the story to distinguish itself from typical adolescent melodramas, once it does you can expect to be transfixed by what unfolds. The very walls feel like they’re closing in while watching this riveting Zeitgeist Stage production.

Bennett’s relentless bullying is so disturbing it’s hard to resist the urge to jump onstage and pummel the obnoxious smartass on behalf of everyone who’s ever suffered at the hands of a teenaged tormentor. When Chadwick finally does respond, in one of the show’s most explosive moments, it’s equally challenging not to stand up and applaud mid-scene.

But, as in life, it’s the person you least suspect who ultimately wreaks the most havoc. Though you feel the pain of the star student when she gets a B, and you begin to understand the relief someone may get from cutting or burning, these allowances still do not fully prepare you for the gut-wrenching climaxes that await them.

Given its proximity to the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the violence and torment in “Punk Rock” is especially haunting, but nonetheless — and perhaps even more so — superb.

If you go

“Punk Rock” 
Through May 25
BCA Black Box Theatre
539 Tremont St., Boston
$25, 617-933-8600
zeitgeiststage.com


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