Friends Like These by Gregory Crafts. Review by Pauline Adamek. *This review first appeared on www.StageRaw.com *
Gregory Crafts’ drama Friends Like These tips its hand during its prologue. In the pitch-dark theater, we hear a montage of news coverage and eye-witness accounts of a shooting rampage at a high school. The lights then come up on a trio of teens wielding foam swords, garbed in medieval attire, spouting archaic English. It’s confusing for a moment until we realize these three are merrily participating in a “Live Action Role Playing”game. Nerdy Garrett (Scott Sharma), Emo girl Dis (Sammi Lappin) and sometime jock Brian (Sean Casey Flanagan) are geeky gamers who hang out together, copping a fair amount of bullying and daily abuse from the cooler kids at their school. Their only escape is acting out these guided fantasy war games in a realm called Haven.
Crafts does a good job of capturing the nightmare of daily abuse —particularly the vile homophobic slurs that assault Garrett —and offers sympathetic insight into those unpopular teens who are pushed to a murderous breaking point. Crafts also seems to hew too closely to stereotypes —the jock, the freak, the cheerleader —even as he attempts to break them down. Hence, we have a conceited cheerleader Nicole (Parissa Koo) who is trying to break out of her assigned category —“slut” or “airhead”—by attempting to date one of the nice guys who happens to be a geek. Her object of affection, Garrett, is hostile at first, but soon warms to the bubbly, motor-mouth girl. But Nicole’s ex-boyfriend Jesse (Lee Pollero), is the most dangerous bully on campus and soon he’s ramping up his attacks on Garrett.
A highlight of Wendy Gough Soroka’s direction is the simple but effective staging of a battle sequence that beautifully captures the chaos of pretend warfare. The music supervision is also exemplary, with the Beastie Boys’up-tempo pop hit “Sabotage”selected for this scene. Swift scene changes are underscored by apt snippets of songs such as The Offspring’s rock anthem “Come Out and Play (Keep ’em Separated)” — emphasizing the school’s pecking order.
Friends Like These begins by provoking belly laughs but soon moves into heavy melodrama fraught with devious machinations and speechifying. Adolescence is a high-drama era and, regrettably, not everyone gets out alive.