I don’t know what your high school experience was like, but mine featured every archetype in the book. There were jocks and cheerleaders; popular kids and weirdos; band nerds and nerd nerds; more than a few druggies, and a million little subcultures in between.
Those tropes are pretty well-trodden territory for theater and film alike. If you don’t believe me, you can spend some time perusing the “50 best high school movies.¨ Or if you’re having trouble remembering where you fit in (or didn’t fit in), BuzzFeed has you covered with a snappy quiz.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The situation at Grimesville High, the titular setting for Dark Times at Grimesville High, is very much the same. We’re introduced first in this musical comedy to Olivia (Tess Higgins) and Peyton (Brittany Martz) as they labor away at “The Grimesville Times,” the school newspaper.
Peyton is the quintessential mean girl – pretty, jealous, and conniving. Olivia, on the other hand, plays the part of “little miss perfect.” She has a 4.0 GPA, is fighting hard to make valedictorian, and wants to do her oh-so-very-best at each and every thing she touches.
It’s a distinction that Peyton can’t stomach, so she contrives a plan to undo Olivia. Along with her friend Stacey (Chelsea Townsend), Peyton uses her position as head of the school paper to convince Olivia that the surest path the valedictorian is writing an expose on the seedy underbelly of Grimesville High.
Olivia agrees to go undercover, and through Peyton Olivia learns to bully her own friends, get drugs from former students, and lose her “technical” virginity at a house party. Because, journalism!
Naturally it all goes horribly wrong for her, and maybe it’s a little far-fetched to think the goody-two-shoes of Grimesville High is naïve enough to be led blindly into cutting class or getting hooked on inhalants, but hey – it’s a comedy!
Dark Times at Grimesville High
Written by Conor Kyle
Details and tickets
And for the most part, it’s a good one. The songs are light and chipper, including “Sticks and Stones,” where Brittany Martz delivers some of the stronger vocals of the show. Likewise, “Just Say Yes” features Mac (Adam Lemos), the long-graduated (or expelled – it isn’t clear) twenty-something who still hangs around to hit on girls and sell drugs to the masses.
More importantly, “Just Say Yes” includes a dance competition that is pure gold, and shows that the ensemble can do more than just stand and belt out a song.
There’s plenty for the eyes as well, with some nice touches to remind the audience that this is a play about high school. The set is complete with Capris Sun, D.A.R.E jackets, and that one kid who never, ever puts his trombone down. You know the one! And it brings you right home.
As for the humor itself, it’s a bludgeoning of comedy that comes from all directions. Sometimes the humor leans heavily on shock value, including a healthy dose of c-bombs (look it up yourself). There’s also some pretty violent imagery directed to (and from) the women of Grimesville, so if you’re easily offended, take note.
Far better, however, are the occasional asides and witticisms that build characters and settings. When Olivia drives her car into a tree, she summons all of her sweetness to declare that the saddest part about her collision is the fact that she hit a poplar, her “second favorite tree.”
Separately, a running gag throughout the show is the tragic character Jane (Maggie Marie Rodgers), who one-by-one tells the story of how she has lost virtually every member of her family. When it finally becomes clear that she’s alone in the world, her friend asks, “did you make a gypsy angry?”
Dark Times’ playwright, lyricist, and composer Conor Kyle makes good use of these little asides and some occasional breaks in the fourth wall. These little sprinklings are much sharper than the lines about “pre-roofied drinks” or any of the other dude humor that infects the play, and will hopefully be the driving force behind his next work.
Knowing nothing about Kyle himself, I’ll say that I do hope there is a next one. The high school / mean girls motif is well-trodden territory, but Dark Times offers a blunt, fresh take on the genre. This isn’t a play with a big, happy ending. Instead, Dark Times serves as a Sartre-esque reminder that there is no exit, or in Kyle’s parlance, “you’ll be here forever.”
And we all know that every high school story ends with the proverbial “take-off-the-glasses” moment where the obviously-hot-but-mystifyingly-outcast student comes out of her cocoon to reveal the physical beauty she’s been hiding all along.
Kyle, thankfully, sets that trope aside. Instead, it’s discovered that the anonymity Olivia has achieved in her pursuit of valedictorian has hidden the fact that she’s actually a great, caring, intelligent person.
Which, we kinda knew, but hey – we’ll call it a twist.
So, props to Kyle for that. Moreover, the fact that he did the music, lyrics, and playwriting entirely solo is impressive enough, especially since the result is pretty decent.
Is it perfect? Nah. And, hey, neither was high school. It deserves an audience larger than the one I joined. And just like high school, you get out of it what you put in.