Young and wild


Melanie Levy gives J.T. Reece his first piercing in School<i>.</i>

Melanie Levy gives J.T. Reece his first piercing in School.

Rated 4.0

Teenagers, suffused with an awkward blend of bravado and confusion, lurch for the first time into serious adult experiences like romance, sex (often quite unromantic among teens and the subject of much boasting) or taking a weapon in one’s hand with the deadly intent of using it on a peer. These elements have kept playwrights busy, and provided great box-office receipts, since Shakespeare’s time at least.

Visiting playwright and director Mark Ravenhill gives us an up-to-the-minute version of teen life in two short plays at UC Davis this week: Julia Jarcho’s Nursery and Ravenhill’s School.

Ravenhill spins no tales of star-crossed lovers. It’s more a case of uncertain adolescents, trying to figure out where they stand in a world with many options. School is about a 16-year-old boy who keeps dreaming that he’s kissing someone—but is it a girl or a guy? He’s not sure.

The kid’s efforts to determine his identity unfold through a string of scenes that include lots of sexual comedy, with suggestive situations and a bit of raunchy talk. The kid is basically goodhearted, but, like many a teen, he makes some very selfish, stupid mistakes along the way. Some of those mistakes have lasting consequences.

Ravenhill’s not focused on an ideal of love. His play includes sex followed by abandonment, as well as another largely empty relationship built on good times but no commitment. Ravenhill sketches a wide range of easily recognizable teen personalities, from high-strung to laid-back, boastful to shy (even suicidal), teasing to forgiving. He also creates cameos of adults who deal with teens. There’s an overworked teacher at a struggling high school where Bush’s federalistas are pressuring the staff under the absurdly named “No Child Left Behind” law, and there’s a fortuneteller who’s trying to read tarot cards but gets interrupted by her unruly teenage offspring.

Nursery is a shorter, darker and more pointed piece. A teenage brother and sister are both fascinated by a TV news report about a high-school student in another state who shoots several classmates. Suddenly, the bold young gunman, or at least his spirit, materializes in their midst and tempts them with a handgun.

Incidentally, Ravenhill is one to watch. His next play—featuring Sir Ian McKellen—opens in London in February.