Playwright: The artistic staff and ensemble . At: Free Street Theater at Pulaski Park, 1419 W. Blackhawk. Phone: 773-772-7248; $15. Runs through: Feb. 6
Not long into Free Street Theater's To Kill a Teenager: seven sins of the juvenile mind, don't be surprised at the realization that teenagers can make just as pretentious performance art as grownups.
No doubt the intensions were noble behind this ensemble-created piece directed by Ron Bieganski to explore what drives teenagers to violence against themselves and their peers ( especially in light of so many high-profile teen-on-teen murders in Chicago in 2009 ) . But the end result comes off as artsy claptrap that obfuscates more than it truly enlightens.
Instead of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins, the ensemble has created their own sins like "suicidal pride," "invincibility" and "emotional driving." Each of these "sins" is explored in a scene preceded by a prologue monologue featuring a distressed member of the ensemble who appears inside a crackling "hellbox."
More often than not, these scenes and prologues are literally filled with shrieking overintellectualized babble about how cripplingly awful it is to be a non-functioning emotional teenager.
Some scenes do make sense, particularly Kay Gonzalez's hilarious delivery of the "Validation Junkie," who overdoes it when it comes to seeking approval.
The ensemble-filled scene on "Perfection," which examines the issue of teenage perceptions of body image, is also powerfully effective. It features a largely pantomimed ritual of students self-cutting with razor blades while Gio Gonzalez appears as a sadistic plastic surgeon using a blade-less electric saw to cut up Barbie-doll-shaped women ( The one wrong note is when Ashley Echevarria sings "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's opera Tosca throughoutthe aria is about being faithful to God as an artist, not really about beauty ) .
But these moments of artistic clarity are the exception rather than the rule. Some start to say something ( like gun-toting Ashley Johnson and Ola Faleti in Wild West gear to explore the notion of "actions ahead of critical thinking" ) , but the scenes often nosedive into incomprehensibility.
And when the ensemble does address the Fenger High School beating death of honors student Derrion Albert, it comes off as being trite and offensive. Echevarria trips on to sing as a drunken lounge singer while students in hoodies shove each other around before reenacting the beating.
Having an observing student say, "The blood leaked out in ounces like so much unwanted soda" is mind-bogglingly in poor taste, not to mention Gonzalez's following agitated monologue as the dead victim.
To Kill a Teenager comes off as a project where adults approach a group of teenagers and impose a hot-button topic that they should explore. But in this case, the end results are poorly conceived and self-important musings that don't shed much light on the topic at hand.