In this typical American high school, there's a student organization "so boring that nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it." But the play "Geography Club" is an illuminating view of the effects of bullying the outcast.
Adapting his first book in his Russel Middlebrook series for the stage, Brent Hartinger had his play premiere at the Seattle FringeACT Festival of New Plays in 2004. The slim retelling of the events in his insightful young adult novel is entertainingly presented by freshmen and sophomore students in the Utah of Utah's respected Actor Training Program.
Hartinger has been called "a master at crafting a high school setting" and has a true skill in writing teen-speak, which guest director Jerry Rapier capitalizes on with his young cast. Mike T. Brown plays Russel, who initially believes he is the only gay student at his high school. That is until a relationship begins with Kevin (Michael S. Johnson), the star of the school's baseball team. With three other students, an on-campus support group is formed, dissolved only to be reformed with the club members newly strengthened.
After his handsome "The Adding Machine" at the university last season, Rapier shows his skill at staging audience-pleasing works. Quick pacing and revealing characterizations are the hallmarks of this production.
Brown is engaging and sympathetic as the play's main character and our narrator, with his comic asides that win over the audience. His portrayal as Russel anchors the play, and he skillfully captures that painfully awkward, hormone-raged age of adolescence - recognizing first love, finding identity, struggling for acceptance. He is aptly supported by Johnson as Russel's duplicitous friend Kevin.
The play draws on "The Breakfast Club" as it assembles an unlikely group of teens, which the playwright acknowledges by directly referencing the movie.
The opening of "Geography Club" coincided with National Coming Out Day, during National Bullying Prevention Month, and the play was staged as part of the university's Pride Week.
This "Geography Club" also gave theatergoers the chance to see a stage dramatization before the film version, which has been produced with big-name stars (Nikki Blonsky, Ana Gasteyer, Scott Bakula) and Cameron Deane Stewart (from the newly released "Pitch Perfect") in the lead role.
Adding greatly to the audience enjoyment of the play, a talkback followed with the author, playwright and the university's director of the LGBT Resource Center.
Caption: Michael S. Johnson as Kevin and Mike T. Brown as Russel in "The Geography Club"
PHOTO BY MICHELE COLLINS