Playwright: Jason Narducy ( music/lyrics ), Brett Neveu ( book )
At: The House Theatre of Chicago @ Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Ave. Tickets: 773-769-3832; www.thehousetheatre.com; $30-$50. Runs through: March 8
You'd think it would have been cool to be a 1983 Evanston school kid in a punk band with a gig at the Cubby Bear. Instead, the bandmates in Verboten not only are lost but entirely friendlessno boy/girl friendsas they agonize through anti-parental alienation/rebellion. Zack ( Jeff Kuryaz, drums ) and Tracey ( Krystal Ortiz, lead singer ) have caring, supportive parents while Chris ( Matthew Lunt, bass ) and Jason ( Kieran McCabe, guitar ) have issues. Chris is a borderline drunk guided by Brenda, his perpetually negative older sister ( Marika Mashburn ), their 'rents missing in action. Jason lives with his divorced father ( Ray Rehberg ) who appears violence prone, although no more so than angry, sullen Jason himself, surely his father's son. It would serve this world premiere well if Jasonthe central characterrecognized this himself . . . but he doesn't.
That's a problem in this well produced, driving show because Verboten was a real band and Jason is the show's co-author, Jason Narducy. Perhaps Narducy limited what book writer Brett Neveu could reveal or say, because the crucial Jason-Dad relationship is weak. Jason's resentment increases each time Dad attempts to reach him without anger or coercion, but we don't learn Dad's perspective. He mentions his divorce and job once in passing without explanation. More isolated than Jason, the father is the only parent lacking his own song, which he needs.
OK, Jason feels betrayed by divorce and punishes his dad. Why not his mom? Why isn't he living with her? Indeed, the key songrepeated four timesis Broken Home: "The air is thick I can't breathe anymore/My heart has stopped I can't remember what it's for/I never wanted to be left here alone/I never wanted a broken home." Well, I was 17 when my folks divorcedI'd expected it for three yearsand I had father issues, too, but we didn't slug each other. I don't say it didn't happen or wouldn't happen, but I need more reason why.
The first four songs are loud, primitive, uninspired punk energy blasts that 1980s adolescents might have written. Narducy and Neveu then offer better tunes that serve character and story, which is necessary in a musical. Broken Home is first, followed by the sweet You Belong, Set Me Free, I'm Not Coming Home and the slow ballad, Do I Belong. Hard-drinking/smoking Brenda even gets a power ballad, a high point. But why does Brenda have a song when Jason's dadmore crucial to the storydoesn't?
The 11 performers are engaging actors who double on instruments in director Nathan Allen's fast-moving production. Allen's casting is non-race and non-age specific, which works in this instance. Verboten is a commonplace teenage story told large with punk drive and pleasing high energy. It ends with the Cubby Bear success, yet Verboten is not about salvation through music/art. Jason's story is quite unfinished as the last note dies away.