‘Moth,’ Declan Greene’s tale of tormented adolescence, at Studio Theatre 2ndStage


David Nate Goldman in Moth at Studio 2ndStage. (Igor Dmitry/Igor Dmitry)

“Moth” is “Glee” for the Emo crowd, a look at high school life from the point of view of the disaffected and disenfranchised, the bullied and the brooding. Australian playwright Declan Greene gives two of the kids from this tribe a platform for expressing the inherent stressfulness of a misfit existence. One only wishes that the piece held together more firmly.

As it is, “Moth” comes across as a rather scattershot portrait of snarly, mixed-up adolescence, embodied by moody Claryssa (Allie Villarreal) and hyper Sebastian (David Nate Goldman). They dwell — or dwelled — in some outer social ring of an unnamed community, where Claryssa is mulling the devastating aftermath of a cruel punishment meted out to Sebastian by some teenage thugs.

Claryssa’s torment, as outlined in this Studio Theatre 2ndStage production, directed by Tom Story, is a turbulent stew of guilt, anger, raging hormones and churning insecurity; the play is a diagramming of her conflicting feelings, toward herself and the troubled Sebastian, who’s been victimized for being gay. We learn crucially, too, in “Moth” that the brutality at some point pushed Sebastian over the edge, into a state requiring hospitalization and causing a hallucinogenic encounter with his namesake St. Sebastian, imagined here as Sebastian’s goading, avenging angel.

Villarreal, dressed by costume designer Brandee Mathies in denim vest, black tights and boots, and Goldman, in cargo pants and red hoodie, are convincing as unlikely, thrown-together best friends. Goldman, however, is a tad too unruffled for a young man so terribly ill-treated and disturbed. For the authorities’ tragic mistake at play’s end to make any sense, we have to believe Sebastian’s unhinged behavior is in some way the trigger.

Director Story and set designer Colin K. Bills place Claryssa and Sebastian in the most recognizable of teenage settings: a school hallway lined with lockers. Cleverly, the lockers become portals through which Sebastian passes from the material world to a more ethereal plane. This movement is not sufficient, however, to cure “Moth” of its narratively malnourished condition.


David Nate Goldman in Moth at Studio 2ndStage. (Igor Dmitry/Igor Dmitry)

Moth

by Declan Greene. Directed by Tom Story. Sets and lighting, Colin K. Bills; movement, Elena Day; costumes, Brandee Mathies; sound, James Bigbee Garver; projections, Mimi d’Autremont. About 75 minutes. Tickets, $5-$35. Through May 4 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Visit www.studiotheatre.org or call 202-332-3300.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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