The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The headline of Janet Maslin’s review of the film version of subUrbia in The New York Times reads, “Seeking the Meaningful in a Store’s Parking Lot.” This description essentially sums up Eric Bogosian’s play. The author presents six people in their twenties whose major tie is that they attended high school together. Five of the six are aimless and unmotivated. Still in the process of finding themselves, they congregate in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven convenience store run by a brother-sister team from Pakistan, Norman and Pakeeza. They litter the parking lot with trash that reaches monumental proportions as the action of the play mounts. They play boom boxes at ear-shattering volume. Their xenophobia and racism become apparent as their relationship with Norman deteriorates. The men are unrepentant male chauvinists.

The sixth youth, Pony, is making a name for himself as a rock music artist whose recently released album sold more than ninety thousand copies. Another album is planned. In contrast to Buff Macleod, who arrives on the scene on rollerblades, Pony and his publicist, Erica, a pampered, oversexed Californian from Bel Air, arrive in a chauffeur-driven, black stretch limousine. Pony is in town briefly for a gig that his former classmates choose not to attend.

In his review of subUrbia, David Richards calls it a play in which “a lot goes on but nothing happens,” an apt assessment. The play is noisy and active, but Bogosian has purposely and appropriately deprived it of forward thrust. The principals are aimless: drinking, littering the area outside the 7-Eleven with their trash, slinking behind it to the decrepit van they use for their frequent assignations, but always returning to where they were. There is a sense of eternal recurrence in their lives. At times they dream dreams: Sooze of going to New York and...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Bogosian uses confinement as a major device, much as Sartre uses it in No Exit. His principals, unlike Sartre’s, are physically able to leave the parking lot, but they are stuck there just as they are stuck in their town and stuck in their situations. There is no exit for them. The Dumpster that is prominently displayed at the edge of the set is scarcely used. The parking lot gang just throws its trash on the ground, but the Dumpster looms as a symbol of their futility.

In the directions at the beginning of act 1, Bogosian is explicit in indicating every detail of the area outside the 7-Eleven and some details of the inside that are visible through the windows. He states in a production note that the music and clothing styles, because styles frequently change, should be left up to the producer, designer, and actors so that each performance will be as contemporary as possible.

Bogosian’s ensemble approach in this play is reminiscent of most Group Theatre productions of the 1930’s. These plays shunned the star system; instead, seven or eight characters had parts of nearly equal length and importance, as is the case in subUrbia.

This play emphasizes the emptiness and futility of the American suburban lifestyle, particularly for young people. The set is extremely important because, although it is quite open, it simultaneously imprisons. The principals can leave, but where would they go? They live with their families, but they rebel against their living arrangements. The parking lot becomes home to them. The hopelessness of their situations engenders the intense feelings of frustration that erupt into the outbursts that pepper the drama. When these outbursts are over, one might ask, “Was anybody listening? Does anybody care?”

In act 2, Buff tells Bee-Bee how one night he turned on his tape recorder and taped everyone talking. He plans to use some of this dialogue in his video. Actually, the dialogue in subUrbia might have been gleaned in exactly this way. Bogosian captures the precise ways in which his principals speak, which results in strings of profane and obscene utterances that may offend some sensibilities. The dialogue, however, is unfailingly authentic.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brustein, Robert. “subUrbia.” New Republic 210 (June 27, 1994): 28-30.

Guthmann, Edward. “Shooting Straight from Eric Bogosian.” Advocate, December 17, 1991, 86-87.

Kaplan, Eliot. “A Couple of White Guys Sitting Around Talking.” Gentlemen’s Quarterly 60 (July, 1990): 137-141.

McGee, Celia. “The 7-Eleven Philosopher Bogosian Had in Mind.” New York Times, June 26, 1994, p. H-5.

Richards, David. “Aimless Youth, Shouting out Its Angst.” New York Times, May 23, 1994, pp. C-11, C-15.

Simon, John. “subUrbia.New York 27 (June 6, 1994): 58-59.