Playground Theatre arrives on the local arts scene with an entertaining, emotionally honest production of John Hughes’ iconic 1985 dramedy “The Breakfast Club” at Rosewood Arts Centre.
Breezily directed in vignette style by co-founder/artistic director Jenna Burnette, who also adapts the witty if dated script, “Breakfast Club” grabs hold without letting go because it remarkably mirrors our own lives in its thought-provoking message of tolerance. This delightfully funny and occasionally poignant character study of teenage stereotypes circa 1984 provides an engaging, soul-searching opportunity to look back at our youth. It allows us to question who we were and perhaps what we could have done differently when meeting others whose appearance, views or personality were vastly different than ours.
Symbolically bound together during a nonchalant Saturday detention at Shermer High School overseen by Assistant Principal Richard Vernon (Jason Antonick, fittingly stern and agitated) with occasional assistance from trusty janitor Carl Reed (Rick Burnette, amiably observant), outspoken rebel John Bender (co-founder/artistic director Christopher Hahn), popular and privileged Claire Standish (Lisa Glover), brainy Brian Johnson (Timothy Walling-Moore), athletic Andrew Clark (Titus Wolverton), and oddball Allison Reynolds (Kirsten Johnson) despise and disagree until they realize how much they have in common from peer pressure to family dysfunction. It’s no surprise how fast they release their emotional baggage, but Hughes, a master of adolescent angst, absolutely understood that each character’s evolution was paramount. The feeling of not living up to their true potential, the constant search for acceptance, or better yet, the inability to become their own person due to parental expectations become key concerns, especially as this fascinating group attempts to gel in their pursuit of maturing into well-rounded, confident individuals with a better understanding of their purpose.
Burnette, who makes fine use of the space and often refreshingly brings the action right into the audience, quickly establishes a nostalgic tone (“Don’t You Forget About Me” opens the show). However, there are times when she sticks too closely to the film. Although I specifically like her handling of the gang’s humorous hallway chase, Bender’s gym confrontation with Vernon in particular is an exact replica right down to the fake throws and basketball roll. By and large, more originality would have been greatly beneficial throughout. Even so, her direction is firmer in the quieter, reflective moments when character development takes precedence.
Burnette’s principals are uniformly terrific. Hahn, displaying intimidating bravado, purposefully commands attention with overbearing arrogance, but doesn’t discount the vulnerability permeating within Bender’s dark despair and hopelessness. Glover, pretty in pink, strongly breaks Claire’s emotional shell when she opens up about her isolation and mindless social circle. Wolverton, tough yet approachable, is compelling during Andrew’s confession of bullying a classmate in a locker room simply to please his father. The wonderfully pleasant Walling-Moore charms with comedic timing. Johnson, a newcomer who delivers a sharply kooky breakthrough performance, notably shines when Allison confronts Andrew about his shortcomings and ultimately admits the pain of being ignored by her parents.
Thanks to its enjoyable debut, Playground Theatre is a company to watch.
“The Breakfast Club” continues through Dec. 20 at Rosewood Arts Centre, 2655 Olson Dr., Kettering. Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. The show is performed in 75 minutes without intermission. Playground Theatre is asking for a $10 suggested donation at the door. For more information, visit www.theplaygroundtheatre.org. Patrons are advised the production contains adult language and themes.