Jaime, Johnnie, and James Dean

In Rebel Country

By Kevin Barry
Directed by James Stover
Thirteenth Street Repertory Co.
50 West 13th St. (212/675-6677)
Non-union production (closes Feb. 28)
Review by Adam Cooper

Kevin Barry's In Rebel Country explores the unsettling adventures of two amicable and impressionable Gen-X types from Elm Creek, Nebraska. There is Jaime (Jeremy Bobb), who is a James Dean fanatic, and his quieter counterpart Johnnie (George Carroll), who is obsessed with movies. On a whim, these two rootless souls road-trip to Fairmont, IN on the uninspired mission to visit James Dean's grave.

The journey initially plays out predictably as they play trivia games while they drive and philosophize about how the moving images of film interrelate with the snapshots of real life. Indeed, Johnnie melds these worlds through dream sequences of himself chatting with an animated James Dean. Their hermetic world is smashed wide open when they pick up funky wild woman Lizzie (Wendy Clifford). What begins as a disquieting lark with a rebel gal who astonishes them with talk of sexual acts and dangerous deeds ends with their excursion sabotaged by gun play, grave robbery, and carjacking.

Jaime and Johnnie eventually extricate themselves from the misadventure and argue over its significance. In a final, salving scene reminiscent of the '70s Coke commercial where football player Mean Joe Greene gives a kid his bottle and jersey, James Dean gives Johnnie his soiled Rebel Without a Cause jacket with the observation that "everything wears out." Dean then offers Johnnie the opportunity to accompany him to Hollywood, but Johnnie opts to return to his Nebraska hometown.

In Rebel Country is very much a '90s play in that it depicts directionless youths searching the past for meaning that is lacking in their present. The script itself, though, is hampered by the same lack of focus. Hobbled by a wobbly, indecisive plot, the production's snappy, stylized beginning ironically runs out of gas once the road trip commences. A certain unintended pointlessness pervades the entire play, fatally making the production itself a part of its intended exploration of meaninglessness.

Characterizations began enchantingly with heightened explorations of two boys' passions but soon got mired in underdeveloped portrayals and heavy-handed pseudo-philosophizing. Debating the meaning of James Dean's life and what it reveals about their own defied believability after all the hostilities Lizzie forced them to endure. The portrayal of Lizzie, exuding obnoxious shallowness and sadism, lacked resonance, depth, and clear motivations, limiting her character to an uninteresting plot device.

James Stover's direction was skillful in bringing out the rhythmic and theatrical components of the characters' inner life and was deft in creating ambiance using a minimum of set design (Joshua Correa). Lighting (Steve Sakowski) and costume design (Shana Albery) also contributed successfully in realizing the narrow worlds of the characters.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Adam Cooper