Do they care? ‘Pledge’ at The Complex Theatre

Reviewed by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

The suicide of a young fraternity boy creates a ripple effect that sends the remaining members into a tailspin, puncturing the social structure to which they’ve all blindly subscribed. Presented by Pop-Up Playhouse, Pledge, a six-character ensemble piece, deals with fraternity life and the hazards of hazing.

Pledge begins on the day that fraternity house president Cam (Alex Dyon) is to give a eulogy for frat brother Todd, a young man who no one can remember anything about, except for the color of his hair. Nor do they much care. And instead of being concerned about their lack of information or interest in how Todd got to the point of ending his own life, it’s much more important to present a ‘united front’ before the public…and find a replacement to fill the house quota.

Cam is stumped with his writing and needs something to wow the crowd. He convinces frat brother and best friend Sherman (Brendan Robinson), a journalist major, to write a moving speech that aptly sounds like it has meaning. Cam through studied theatrics brings the crowd to tears and exalts himself as a true leader. Cam however, secretly harbors the insecurity that he’ll never live up to his own father’s expectations and therefore will never have his love or respect or attention. So these triumphs are burdened with the goal to impress. Brendon’s insecurities on the other hand, stem from the inability to write ‘the next great novel’. He feels talentless and is desperate to be famous for his words. His failure to go viral on social media or gain followers is his greatest cross to bear.

Cam’s ex-girlfriend Bailey (Vanessa Marano) suddenly shows up after a long absence and an unfriendly break-up.  Cam is immediately threatened by Bailey’s disinterest in himself and her relationship with Sherman, and begins to subtly challenge Sherman into choosing loyalty to their friendship over love for Bailey.

Alex Dyon, Artie O’Daly, Kevin Clough, Elijah Nelson. Photo by Noah Kentis.
Alex Dyon, Artie O’Daly, Kevin Clough, Elijah Nelson. Photo by Noah Kentis.

Really, every character in this play has a tragic insecurity about his or her attractiveness, popularity, self-worth, talent, sexuality or lack thereof one way or another. Each one creates elaborate justifications for bad behaviors and decisions that profoundly impact others in the group, but without remorse for anyone else except themselves.

I hated every one of these people. So might you. Unless of course, you identify with what writer Paul Shoulberg (Synthesis, Walter) and director Stan Zimmerman (The Golden Girls, Right Before I Go, Rosanne, Gilmore Girls, Meet and Greet) highlight in Pledge as the ultimate discourse of white privilege.

If so, somehow you might even feel a sense of injustice at being portrayed so dumbly. Albeit that of course, there is a kind of comedy in this particular brand of vain stupidity, sexual aggressiveness, nebulous morality and contrarian perspectives on practically everything presented here.

Like me, you may not feel a shred of empathy for any of them. Them being three fraternity brothers in a Midwest university, a second-choice pledge trying to survive the constant bullying, the sexually bored uncle of the president (and long-graduated member) who regularly cheats on his wife on the pretext of business trips (to the school for illicit and occasional forcibly performed ‘dates’ with vulnerable girls), and the reformed sorority girlfriend in momentary love with her ex lover’s best friend, returned from a self-imposed college partying abstinence (she cannot resist the lingering attraction to frat boys).

Adjectives…self-absorbed, narcissistic, forgettable, lacking in substance, violent.

This show is not an eye-opener. It’s not the first time anyone has encountered these kinds of behaviors. But the generation portrayed here has developed a particular penchant for ego-centricity and vacillation that hides in disconnection, floats in pseudo-intellectualism, and is wrapped in faux popularity.

Maybe it’s been all the helicopter parenting. Maybe it’s the tech. Maybe it’s been the over-scheduling. The unattainable expectations. The extreme politics or militant, societal be-awesome pressure. Maybe it’s the inaccessibility of real privacy. Or the crushingly overwhelming perception of their own unimportance.  Whatever the factor, it’s mind-blowing.

Worse is that for every one of these people, life, will just go on as if nothing bad or even interesting has happened that day.

Pledge is insightful in that it deep-dives right into the multi-generational psyche of people who have the world at their disposal, living in the delusion of not getting anything they want.

They skim the superficiality of life, like it really is a day at an outdoor ice rink. Exciting in the moment. Comfortably uncomfortable. Pretending like something important is happening. Someone might fall through the ice. Oh how terrible. Just skate by.  It’s not us.  Amazing/quippy, social media contemplation in acceptable character limit.  Moving on. Next!

Spot on direction by Zimmerman.  Fantastic talent in this production is headed by Brendan Robinson (Pretty Little Liars) and Vanessa Marano (Gilmore Girls, Switched at Birth) rounded out with cast members Elijah Nelson (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Alex Dyon (who is particularly perfect as Cam), Kevin Clough and Artie O’Day who also appeared in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival production of Pledge.

Highly Recommended.

Playing at the Dorie Theatre at The Complex.
70 Minutes. No Intermission.

Photo (above): Back row: Artie O’Daly, Kevin Clough, Elijah Nelson Front row: Alex Dyon, Vanessa Marano, Brendan Robinson. All photos by Noah Kentis.

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