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A very Gothic southern moth

moth 0820 thumb“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” meets “Donnie Darko” in the latest offering at Studio Theater Second Stage.  The enigmatically named “Moth” is Southern Gothic, but very Southern.  In fact, it hails from below the equator as a rare example of Australian theater in this area.

Playwright Declan Greene gives us an intriguing puzzle box of a story, centered on two characters who are definitely outcasts in a typical socially stratified high school world.  Claryssa is a young girl with various issues and she rebels by being a Goth/Emo girl.  Her best friend Sebastian is also a social misfit.  That’s the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” part

Both kids get into typical young teenager stuff: a fascination with body functions, teenage self-esteem angst, problems with parents, and fantasies of what they would like to do with the more hated members of their school community.

A particular nasty incident of bullying sends Sebastian over the edge and into a fantasy world where there may be no recovery.  That’s the “Donnie Darko” part.

Area actor Tom Story makes his directing debut with “Moth” and he has selected a very tricky work for that debut.  The story is told with a constantly shifting time line and often crosses over into fantasy so one never knows what is real and what is not.  It is a lot easier to follow than the film “Donnie Darko” (which I enjoyed but found high nigh impenetrable) but it is not until the very end that one can begin putting all the pieces together.  Even then, intriguing questions remain.

Still director Story keeps thing in focus and the 75 minute one act is constantly moving.  He is helped by the two actors.  Allie Villarreal gives Claryssa a tough exterior but shows us a very vulnerable soul during unguarded moments.  David Nate Goldman makes Sebastian a likeable enough geek who slowly loses contact with reality.  At times the actors shift quickly to portray other students and adults in their world and then snap right back to their main characters.  There is a third actor on stage, uncredited and not a speaking role, but I will leave that surprise up to you.

Colin Bills turns to upstairs Second Stage area into that most iconic of high school areas, a row of student locker.  Bills uses his lighting and some set tricks to define different areas of the stage where various events occur, sometimes simultaneously, and to suggest movement from the real world into dreams and fantasies.

Occasionally playwright Greene is a little too clever and obscure for his own good, but the playwright generally plays fair.  If you follow carefully what is going on, you can follow the downward spiral of these two teenagers pretty easily.  The result is as universal as adolescence and as topical as tomorrow’s headline.

 “Moth” continues at Studio Theater through May 4.  For more information, call (202) 332-3300 or go online to www.studiotheatre.org

3 stars 

By David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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