Naughty Prep School Stories
nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
August 21, 2006
Ages ago, I threatened to write my own Fringe offering: a play about a reviewer writing a Fringe show featuring a writer reviewing the Fringe. Christening it "Meta!, Meta!!," I was so infatuated with its layered premise that as soon as the festival ended, I promptly forgot all about it.
And good thing, too, since Michael Quinones's Naughty Prep School Stories, would beat my paltry effort to a pulp. Who wants to see some lowly reviewer onstage when New York's richest and most powerful are ripe for derision?
Quinones's protagonist JD embodies some of Manhattan's most irritating clichés: obscenely wealthy, supremely entitled, and enrolled at one of Manhattan's most exclusive prep schools. Then why so glum as he toots blow in his parents' twelve-million-dollar townhouse? His capacity for envy in direct proportion to his trust fund, it seems that JD is chafing at the proliferation of mediocre prep school memoirs flooding the best-seller lists. Why should these authors become media darlings when his own life provides such rich material for an even more salacious (read: marketable) exposé?
Beginning with his stereotypical substance abuse and nasty habit of sleeping with the maid, JD's requisite dysfunctions include It-Girl sister, Coco, dominating the club circuit with her coterie of parasites; a brutally mercenary father; and a surgically and chemically altered mother who woozily laments, "If only your father had let me abort you like I wanted." (Ouch.)
Capitalizing on the fact that his father virtually "runs Broadway," JD forgoes a book for a play, and since he's more clever than your average memoirist, he adds an ironic twist by parodying the entire phenomenon, his main gimmick being that it's a drama about a prep-school teenager who's writing a scandalous prep-school memoir whose central character pens a sizzling roman-a-clef about his prep school escapades and family pathology.
It's beyond meta—it's post-meta.
If you like your satire dark, as I do, then Naughty Prep School Stories, see-sawing from self-referential mockery to smug self-congratulation, will be just your shot of Ecstasy. In this world, sophistication replaces self-awareness, elite connections preclude hard work, and fame (if not notoriety), is a birthright. Whether or not we recognize every insider allusion, Quinones's parody of a parody allows us to pity this ridiculous tribe (JD's response to a Holden Caulfield reference is a clueless "Who?") even as we envy their privileged existence.
Quinones's targets, however, are not restricted to Upper East Side Brahmins, as insufferable club kids pronounce meth orgies "so last year" and "incest, the new black." Meanwhile, JD's play, starring "Kieran Culkin" and "Al Pacino," gleefully showcases some dreadful writing and even more atrocious acting.
The cast walks a tricky line as they gaze into a succession of mirrors, only to see repeated images of (surprise!) themselves looking in mirrors. By and large, though, they accomplish their various levels of trompe l'oeil with laudable aplomb, even when delineating "real" characters from ones played "onstage." Meredith Forlenza's Coco is all silky Paris Hilton, her unearned celebrity an unquestioned given in this through-the-looking-glass universe. Sheila Tapia shines as both an illegal domestic and a "New York Magazine" piranha of sensationalism, while Cesar Gracia's Al Pacino is a stomping, hoo-haa!'ing scream. Throughout all, director Malini Singh McDonald's clarity is impressive and much appreciated.
Reviewing such a show is challenging, and—oops!—better skip the review about a reviewer attempting to write a review.
After all, "meta" orgies are just so last year.