Curtains: Special '50s-Themed Events Wrap Up Rebel Without a Cause at Central Community Theatre

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It's always been rough to be a teenager (or to know one), but up until about 50 years ago, you could count on going to war, marrying young, and/or working your butt off for a living to distract you from hormonal storms, existential angst, and the cruel disappointment of finding out what human nature and adulthood are really like.

But post-WWII prosperity and burgeoning behavioral science spiked interest in deviant adolescent behavior, and young folks acting out not only terrified the mainstream establishment but also became known as a serious social problem. Sure, some of us just sat in our rooms hyperventilating and reading a lot of science fiction, but we all know people who drank, ran around, committed acts of violence and vandalism, and defined the term "juvenile delinquent."

The amazing writer and filmmaker Nicholas Ray's signature work was the film Rebel Without a Cause, which became a huge hit only partly because star James Dean died in a car accident just about a month before it opened. Even if, like me, you've never seen it all the way through, you've probably seen clips, including Dean screaming, "You're tearing me apart!" at his baffled, ineffectual parents.

In 2005, to celebrate the film's 50th anniversary, a plucky band of New York theater people created a stage version based on the screenplay, and that's what Central Community Theatre's presenting right now in its venue on the north side of Central United Methodist Church, just north of the Phoenix Art Museum/Phoenix Theatre complex.

The way the plot unfolds is just a teensy bit different from the film in a couple of ways (I discovered through research), but I won't spoil you with details. The dialogue is faithful to the original, and the tone of CCT's production reverently reflects the Method Acting movement that peaked in the U.S. in the '50s, as well as the understated writing and cinematography of the Golden Age of television drama. The play is just a joy to watch, even though its treatment of timeless issues is also quite moving and affecting.

Director Ken Kahle's deft handling of the large cast and complex stage pictures is impressive (and so are the set changes, in which bulky furniture is zipped on and off in a speedy, calm, and quiet fashion). The actors suffuse even the smallest roles with energy and sincerity, no one's merely trying to mimic a famous performer or time period, and the many layers of conflict and suspense operate spot-on.

CCT performs in a comfortable space where you can enjoy concessions in your seat or at small tables near the stage, but this closing weekend offers even more fun: $3 root beer floats at the intermission of Saturday's 2 p.m. matinee, or, before Saturday's 8 p.m. performance, a $10 diner-style meal of slider burgers, chips, and a float, served by cast members (bless their hearts), plus a "sock hop" and free costume contest in which you, the audience, can compete for prizes.

Rebel Without a Cause continues through Sunday, October 4, at Central Community Theatre on the campus of Central United Methodist Church, 1875 North Central Avenue. Buy tickets, $15 to $20 without food, here, or call 602-357-3247 for reservations and more details about Saturday's events.

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