nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
February 12, 2005
Wuthering High, the latest offering from Cagey Productions and Four Panel Productions, is an homage to '80s teen comedies. At least, I think it is. Sometimes it’s a parody of such movies—particularly the landmark films of John Hughes—and other times it’s a dark gothic romance. Both are understandable, considering that the play is adapted from Emily Bronte’s 19th century novel Wuthering Heights and inspired by teen film comedies of the 1980s. However, with this many different elements at work it’s often difficult to know what Wuthering High is, and what it’s trying to accomplish.
Writers Karen Grenke, Christina Nicosia, Jonathan Van Giesen, and David Vining plop Bronte’s tragic lovers down right in the middle of a John Hughes movie. Goth girl Catherine Earnshaw drops her best friend, the brooding, snarky Heathcliff (who longingly pines for her, of course), when she has a chance to join the in-crowd at school. The fallout is predictably tumultuous, with one character landing in jail, another one fleeing to Europe, a third one exiled to a military academy, and a fourth one going completely insane.
Sounds like fun, right? Actually, it could be. But, unfortunately, there are too many styles happening in tandem for Wuthering High to be much fun at all. The satirical aspects of the show are too casual and half-hearted to succeed; the dramatic segments are too heavy and out of sync with the rest of the show; and the attempts at homage fail because the company tries so hard to make Wuthering High entertaining and funny that it ends up being neither. If one stylistic approach could have been settled on and committed to, they might have had a show. As things stand right now, they do not.
Ginna Hoben, Meghan Love, and Rachel Speicher provide some bright spots as The-Coolest-Girl-in-School’s entourage, as does Dov Weinstein as the resident nerd. Stephen Blackwell does well as Edgar, the surprisingly humane BMOC. But Wuthering High ultimately suffers from two fatal casting choices. Co-author Grenke’s characterization of Catherine seems nearly as whiny and shallow as the “cool girls” Catherine is trying to impress. And, as Heathcliff, co-author Van Giesen is disastrously one-note. Emulating Judd Nelson’s performance in The Breakfast Club, Van Giesen’s portrayal is all attitude and flared nostrils, but without any depth. Grenke and Van Giesen both also look significantly older than the characters they're playing, not to mention everyone else on stage.
In the end, Wuthering High lacks a discernible theme. All of the acknowledged classics in the '80s teen genre make potent statements about high school class warfare and prejudice. Wuthering High has all the ingredients necessary to do so also, but is identity crisis keeps it from accomplishing that. Instead, Wuthering High focuses on surface features—i.e., the inclusion of stock character types and recognizable pop songs of the era—to ensure that it comes off as authentically “80s.”
Perhaps the creators are trying to create their own new '80s teen classic. If so, they sabotage themselves by skimping on point of view.
And where’s the fun?