Back to the Future Generation: EP Theater’s latest play blurs the line between kitsch and classic

All the surfaces in the lobby of Pilsen’s EP Theater are covered in vinyl, chipped polish, and at least seven layers of irony. The decorators of this room seem to have taken their cues from effete Victorian imagery and coupled it with the limp-wristed flamboyance of ’70s chic. So it came as no surprise that, before the Lights Out Theatre Company’s performance last Friday of Justin Tracz’s “Song For A Future Generation,” a woman emerged from behind the cardboard backdrop and welcomed the twenty or so audience members with the introduction: “This play is about a dance party in space, so let’s make some noise, alright?”

As befits a play named after a B-52’s single, what followed was a campy pastiche of saccharine 1980s teen movies. “Song For A Future Generation” unfolds over the course of a theme party on a space shuttle owned by three clones, each one named Marika (Annie Lydia Litchfield, Andrea Decamp, and Haily Wineland). Each clone recalls the narrow archetypes established by the ’80s movie master, John Hughes: there is a nerdy clone, a ditzy clone, and a punk clone. They all explain, occasionally in unison, that initially there was one Marika whose attempts to seduce a boy were met with repeated failure. Hoping to increase the likelihood of her romantic success, she cloned herself and now there are three completely different (and completely hackneyed) characters who all answer to the same name.

The other party guests contribute their fair share of teenage angst and drama. There is the lovelorn Error (Jonathan Matteson) who, after having been genetically coded for time travel by a lab of Mengelesque researchers, jumps from century to century in search of his dream girl. Two intergalactic bounty hunters also make an appearance. One hunter’s target is the infamous eco-terrorist The Kid (Jaclyn Keough) who, after escaping from the prison planet Alcatron, has shown up at the party to save the last surviving Rock Lobster. Such overt references to America’s garish pop heritage are a fixture of the production and a source of easy laughs. Probably the most cliché characters, however, are the pilot-in-training Log (Bobby Libby) and the bitter, bookish Thena (Alyse Kittner), whose relationship seems to be a futuristic re-working of Emilio Estevez’s and Ally Sheedy’s respective roles in “The Breakfast Club.” Tracz’s play on the pairing of overconfident jock and troubled outsider rejuvenates an otherwise tired trope of teen cinema and cements the play’s ’80s aura.

“Song For A Future Generation” is already an over-the-top concept; in practice, however, it is an outrageous celebration of one of the sappiest eras in the history of American film. The characters suffer through the most predictable of romantic and existential (not to mention extraterrestrial) dramas, all the while blissfully unaware of the universal nature of their quest for individuality.

These seemingly age-old devices are no accident; director Mary Rose O’Connor takes deliberate steps to set a cinematic tone. Throughout the performance, Reagan-era hit singles play in the background, as do a few tunes from this century’s more ’80s-influenced acts, such as the super-trendy Neon Indian and M83.

Dance plays a significant role in the production as well. Laughter ricocheted off the theater’s walls every time the actors began their synchronized swaying and goose-stepping to tracks reminiscent of any soft-focus prom scene from a quarter century ago. The almost synesthetic combination of Log’s slicked back pompadour and the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” leads one to believe that actor Bobby Libby is channeling Morissey himself. Minor details such as these coalesce to make the production intimate and jovial while remaining professional and well-acted. From the uproarious one-liners (“All of the hot ones are robots! Or gay! Or gay robots!”) to the delectably chintzy set design, the production can only be described as a neon-striped success.
EP Theater, 1820 S. Halsted St. Thursday, February 18-Saturday, March 13. 8pm. $15. eptheater.com