Teen angst at Joe McCarthy High

Special to The Times

Theatrical electricity crackles through "Stupid Kids" at Celebration Theatre. Given the short shelf life of adolescent mores, John C. Russell's stylized study of sexually awakening suburban teens already seemed, like, so last year the day after it opened in 1998. Its stunning L.A. premiere thinks otherwise.

A labor of love posthumously produced by original director Michael Mayer after Russell's 1994 death from AIDS, "Stupid Kids" suggests an MTV video-log shot by John Hughes on hashish. The archetypes erupt upstage on designer Kurt Boetcher's amazing set, spewing F-bombs and attitude at the police. Panic sets in at juvenile hall, where an unlikely quartet connects.

The play's title alludes to the in-crowd at Joe McCarthy High, such as vacuous Judy (Tessa Thompson), who dates the coolest boy in school. After she meets newbie Jim (Michael Grant Terry) in lockup, though, a renegade power couple emerges. Post-punk iconoclast Jane (Kelly Schumann) has rechristened herself "Kimberly" after Patti Smith's sister. Vulnerable idealist John (Ryan Spahn) identifies as "Neechee," spelled phonetically to make it more accessible. These perceptive gay outcasts cling to each other like ramen noodles, sharing dweeb poetry and unrequited yens for the popular pair. Jim and Judy inhale their attention, an oasis from peer conformity and hazing.

Director Michael Matthews elevates Russell's geek fantasy, probing its ritual surface to find the truth in its precocity, aided by Marvin Tunney's choreography, Tim Swiss' lighting, Marjorie Lockwood's costumes and a soundtrack by Cricket S. Myers and composer Ron Poulson.

All four actors are breathtaking, smartly attuned without undue youthful tics. Thompson and Terry have precisely the physical presence and ambiguity to counter Schumann and Spahn, who crack us up and break our hearts. Their inspired mix propels "Stupid Kids," a dazzling company triumph.

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'Stupid Kids'

Where: Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: March 23

Price: $25

Contact: (323) 957-1884

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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