The down and dirty description of this show is Downton Abbey meets Jackass -The Movie. Playwright Laura Wade has penned a tale that is equally posh and revolting. On the surface, ten Oxford University students are determined to continue the antics of the historic and exclusive Riot Club. Clad in formal tails, they dine in the private room of a village pub. Their elegant attire is designated by the elite members from past generations. In this case, the clothes don’t make the man. Despite their well-dressed appearance and their sophisticated airs, the guys quickly reveal they are assholes.
Director Jonathan Berry has his hands full with these frat boys. The bulk of the show is the ten guys at a dinner party. Berry impressively orchestrates this talented ensemble through ritualistic toasts and boozy debauchery. At first, I wondered how I’d keep all these white guys straight. They seemed so collectively like a homogeneous gaggle of spoiled douchebags. And it would be easy to solely focus on the truly nasty deeds of these bad boys. On one level, this is a show definitely about partiers spiraling out-of-control. That’s the Jackass-The Movie aspect. The guys goad each other into acts of escalating wickedness.
Yet, I believe Wade has a higher purpose here. She wants us to understand the backstory of each character. She wants us to experience the struggle of a brotherhood founded on the crumbling pillars of noble birth. That’s the Downton Abbey part. Although we meet these guys as a mob, between Berry’s direction and Wade’s dialogue layered with subtle distinction, we catch glimpses of their individual circumstances.
From the start, we know Sean Wiberg (Guy) is desperate to be the club president. He begs his godfather (played by the aloof Will Kinnear), a legacy club member, for tips on making an impression. The anxious Wiberg works hard to impress his peers. He and Ryan Hallahan (Dimitri) continually butt heads during their campaigning for presidency. A flashy Hallahan tries to buy his way to acceptance. In grandiose style, Hallahan tries to lead a toast only to have Colin Sphar (Hugo) quickly cut him off. A poised Sphar reminds him a noble title is required to make a speech. Hallahan has the money but not the pedigree. Some of the others have the opposite problem. They complain their large estates are tourist attractions or film sites to bring in much needed revenue. The earnest Michael Kurowski (Ed) reveals his brother – a former club big shot – is starting a food truck. His companions react repulsed at this latest example of the indignity that the upper class is having to face.
The noteworthy Eric Staves (George) displays the naivety and unconcern of a son from both good lineage and wealth. Staves hilariously describes his encounter with a drug dealer. Christopher Borek (Toby) is the club member being punished for an infraction. Borek delivers a realistic hot-mess of a performance that made me gag. Both Dash Barber (Harry) and Michael Holding (Alistair) are the rabble-rousers. As charismatic rogues, Barber and Holding try to incite the fellas to protest the oppression of the upper class. A dignified Japhet Balaban (James) presides over the dinner with diplomacy. During the drunken evening, Balaban becomes visibly shaken in uncertainty. The newbie Matthew Garry (Miles) tries to align with whomever is speaking the loudest. Then he memorably confronts Bryce Gangel (Rachel) with ‘you don’t want to kiss me.’ It is this terrific mix of pompous surprise, sad vulnerability and being totally wasted.
I enjoyed POSH! I found the first act riveting with the introduction of distinct characters and the merriment and havoc that ensued. The second act had a big head-scratching moment involving Borek. It seemed a weird addition to this particular party. Still, I found the ending evocative as line blurs between the Riot Club and the ‘boys club’ running the real world.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes include one intermission
At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn
Written by Laura Wade
Directed by Jonathan Berry
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
EXTENDED thru March 12th
Buy Tickets at www.steeptheatre.com
Production photo by Lee Miller
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