Stray Cat Theatre's Punkplay: Grow Up or Die

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The setup: Gregory S. Moss' Punkplay takes us back to the spiky, neon-tinged '80s to make some points about the cyclical nature of cultural rebellion and the timelessness of adolescent turmoil. It's kind of a (mostly) non-musical Spring Awakening with what some of you might see as a happier ending.

The execution: In Stray Cat Theatre's production, young actors Devon Nickel and Nathan Dobson display both their range and their virtuosity as Mickey and Duck, teenage buddies who bond over music, hair, and other cultural ephemera while striving for the ''non-fakeness'' and rebellious differentiation of identity that's the goal of each successive generation.

The relentless energy of the short scenes and the transitions between them are deftly managed by director Michael Peck. Even the consistently wretched acoustics of the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts are not a big issue in the face of this fierce ensemble.

It doesn't matter, for example, that the recurrent vignette of the two boys bouncing proposed band names off each other is hard to make out -- the words aren't important. And Nickel's amazing pipes carry his unamplified vocals with moving clarity during a succinct, thrashy rehearsal of said band.

Michelle Chin plays several characters, including a bikini-clad, Ronald Reagan-headed hallucination -- in the second cough-syrup-induced hallucination Curtains has reviewed so far this year -- distinctly and charmingly.

The verdict: Although (or even, perhaps, because) this is a short script that begins and ends with what Peck has presented as somewhat open-ended sequences that take place outside the plot's arc, it's funny, engaging, thoughtful, and for those of us who are old enough, nostalgic.

Punkplay continues through Saturday, September 29, at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts, 700 West Rio Salado Parkway. Curtain is at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (the show closes on the 28). Tickets are available through the Stray Cat Theatre website.

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