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A CurtainUp Review

Wuthering High
By Jenny Sandman

It's a little childish and immature, but then, so is high school. .
--- --Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering High.
Who knew that Emily Bronte and John Hughes had something in common?

Karen Grenke, Christina Nicosia, Jonathan Van Gieson and David Vining have set Bronte's classic Wuthering Heights as an 80s teen movie. 80s nostalgia is fully realized here, with constant sly references to The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Pump Up the Volume, Sixteen Candles, Footloose, Teen Wolf, Heathers, and Say Anything, among others. And Bronte's characters quoting lines from all of the above.

For those with a guilty addiction to 80s pop culture Wuthering High offers a new alternative to VH1 Classic.Heathcliff bears a striking resemblance to Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club; Hareton (here realized as a geeky freshman in love with Catherine's sister ) woos Little Cathy with a boom box blasting out " In Your Eyes."

In Wuthering High Catherine and Heathcliff are lifelong friends and outcasts. When their senior year begins, Heathcliff is desperately in love with Catherine but can't tell her. Catherine is paired up with rich and handsome school jock, Edgar, and they fall in love. Heathcliff is crushed and disappears. When he returns some months later, with money and new leather pants, Catherine has been accepted into the cool girls' clique (a roving pack of Valley girls). They've given her a makeover, and are inviting her and Edgar to all the hot parties. To make Catherine jealous, Heathcliff begins dating Edgar's popular twin sister, Izzy. Meanwhile, Hareton, a geeky freshman with D&D manuals cluttering his backpack, is trying to win over Catherine's little sister "Little Cathy."

The amalgm of everyone's worst (and best) adolescent memories brought to life is accompanied by every cliché from every teen movie. It's a weird pastiche of lines from Wuthering Heights, 80s movies and 80s slang. Firmly tongue-in-cheek, the whole thing has a kind of pep rally energy to it, especially during the big dance number at the end. It's a fun show and concept, though not the most polished production. The acting is often hammy, the pace is jerky, and the set changes are slow (and largely unnecessary). It's also a little too long so that the jokes and the concept wear thin by the last third of the play. Director David Vining hasn't made the best use of the 14th Street Y allowing many scenes to play out in front of the curtain with the stage , often the stage swallowing the performers.

Despite the emphasis on hamming, the actors show potential. Best are show creators Karen Grenke as Catherine and Jonathan Van Gieson as Heathcliff who have great chemistry (especially in what might be termed the power ballad portion of the show, when all the doomed romances and teenage angst come to a head) There's also a surprise showing from Tiny Ninja Theater creator Dov Weinstein as Hareton. The other characters don't move beyond the stereotypes they play(valley girls, jocks, rich snobs, vice-principals). The ensemble aesthetic could be stronger, as well.

Some have claimed 80s fetishization has gone the way of grunge music and Walkmen, but don't tell that to this show's authors. While they've done a great job transplanting Wuthering Heights into the 80s, their show might work better as a straight adaptation rather than as a teen movie send-up. Right now their production yields mixed results, it's strong suite being that it's fun and energetic.

Written by Karen Grenke, Christina Nicosia, Jonathan Van Gieson and David Vining
Directed by David Vining
With Karen Grenke, Jonathan Van Gieson, Meghan Love, Andrew Hurley, Tim Shaw, John Grace, Dov Weinstein, Ginna Hoben, Rachel Speicher, Stephen Blackwell, Bryn Boice, Christina Nicosia and David F. Smith
Set Design by Susan Barras
Lighting Design by Regan Dodson
Costume Design by Xina
Sound Design by Dan Nuxoll
Running time: Two hours with one ten-minute intermission
Cagey Productions, Sol Goldman 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street; 212-868-4444. Wednesday through Monday at 8 pm. All tickets $15.
02/10/05 through 02/26/05; opening 2/14/05
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on February 10th performance
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