What are the forces that work to push teenagers to their breaking point? This critical question is explored in the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble production of Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock, featuring USC alumni Story Slaughter and Zachary Grant, who both graduated in 2015 with degrees in theater.
The electrifying play, directed by Lisa James, opened on March 25 at Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles. Punk Rock centers around a group of seven teenagers at an English prep school as they weave through the pressures of college entrance exams to bullying to love, sex and everything in between.
Stephens, well-known for his Tony award-winning play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was influenced by the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 in the creation of Punk Rock. Drawing on these influences, he created an incredibly funny yet unsettling play that displays the pressures of today’s societies and how these forces may be too much to cope with.
Adhering to the name of the production, Punk Rock displays adolescent angst, rage and rebellion at its finest. The characters are immensely complex and effectively encapsulate the inner workings of teenagers’ minds.
Two of these incredibly intricate characters are portrayed by recent USC graduates. Zachary Grant played the multi-faceted William Carlisle; alongside him starred Story Slaughter as the sweet-natured Tanya Gleason.
“It’s been a lot of fun.” Grant said, “Everyone in the cast is really nice, so we got really close. We had to be as open as possible with each other … so we can be open on the stage.”
Slaughter described her previous relationship with Grant and how the two have become closer during the play’s production process.
“In terms of going to school with Zach, it’s so cool [that I get to work with him] because I was an admirer of his work from afar because we had acting classes together,” Slaughter said. “The universe is so kind to me to put me in this play with him because I never did at USC.”
Before Punk Rock, Grant and Slaughter were already involved in pursuing their passions and making a name for themselves in the theater industry. Grant has performed in several plays including Infinite Black Suitcase, La Ronde and Glory of Living, as well as in the film Being Charlie. Slaughter has starred in various films such as The Cigarette, Gloves and Peter & Lilah and the animated web series Limited Space, along with the plays Proof, Ordinary People and Stillwaters.
In regards to the advice they would offer current theater students, Grant stressed the importance of hard work.
“When you’re a theater student it could be easy to not do any work and just show up, but after a while, it becomes a waste of time if you keep doing that,” Grant said.
Slaughter, on the other hand, encouraged students to find inspiration in their fellow peers to strengthen their craft.
“I just encourage people to be inspired by your peers, don’t get competitive with them- that will crush acting,” Slaughter said.
Both Slaughter and Grant’s performances in Punk Rock demonstrate complexity and finesse. They chillingly portray the layers of the teenage psyche and effects of societal pressures. The play opened on March 25 and will continue through May 14 at the Odyssey Theatre, with select performances offering discounted student tickets.
“[It’s] absolutely a dream. Amazing,” Slaughter said about her experience on the Punk Rock stage.
The cast of Punk Rock features actors of similar caliber and age, which allows them to foster a unique bond through the production.
“We’re all in a similar walk of life with our careers in that we’re young, we’re living in Los Angeles, we all recently graduated school and we’re thirsty for work,” Slaughter said. “To be in this play — we’re all really excited and we’re supportive [of each other].”