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    The Gifted Program

    Nerds of a feather

    "The Gifted Program" is a less than gifted play about allegedly smart, D&D-playing, slide-rule-toting kids that doesn't adequately capture the true dweeb-jock dynamic of high school.

    By TRAV S.D.

    Ruben Carbajal's "The Gifted Program" concerns the travails of four "gifted and talented" students in a bleak Wisconsin high school. The quartet of outcasts, Paul (Deron Bos), Bill (Sean Modica), Joey (Brenton Popolizio), and Lester (Aaron Yoo), while away their leisure hours playing Dungeons and Dragons, and bemoaning their lot of being stuck in a world where they are universally misunderstood and despised. Their misery turns to fear when Paul has the temerity to write love poems to the head cheerleader (Mary Wigmore) and the entire school chases them and beats them up.

    Company: OVO.
    Written by: Ruben Carbajal.
    Directed by: Mike Shapiro.
    Cast: Deron Bos, Sean Modica, Brenton Popolizio, Mary Wigmore, Aaron Yoo.

    Related links: Official site
    Center Stage NY
    48 West 21st St., 4th floor
    Previews start: Jan. 30, 2003
    Jan. 31 - Feb. 23, 2003

    This outing is as stale as yesterday's cafeteria pizza. Rather than offering insight and understanding and a refreshing new slant on the plight of bright kids in a world of dipshits, "The Gifted Program" revisits for the zillionth time the predicament of "nerds," as depicted in countless Hollywood teenager movies and TV sitcoms. Carbajal's nerds have the requisite straight, greasy hair and glasses. They can't fight or play sports. One of them even carries a briefcase.

    The play's worst sin is in inviting us to laugh at these creatures, and to sympathize with the fact that they don't "fit in." It is therefore in the unfortunate position of buying into the adolescents' warped value system. Entirely absent (except for a couple of tantalizing, all-too-brief sections) is a sober reflection on the absurdity and injustice of a universe in which the most promising citizens are shunned as social pariahs. After all, these kids are presumably the next Bill Gateses and Martin Scorceses. The rest of this student body will go on to miserable lives as car-wash attendants, tax accountants, and convenience store managers, and — if they have even a particle of brains — wish they'd been a little nicer to the "gifted and talented" club. The play shows little or no appreciation of this looming reality.

    Lester's obsession is presented as a sort of amusing foible. The dork just wants to go to M.I.T. All dorks want to go M.I.T.  

    Also, because Carbajal prefers to dwell on the groups' social retardation, how these young men are "gifted" or "talented" is never meaningfully depicted. Lester carps about trying to get into M.I.T. His obsession to do so is presented as a sort of amusing foible. The importance of mathematics — to the world or to Lester — are never conveyed. The dork just wants to go to M.I.T. All dorks want to go M.I.T. They do some mysterious, unimportant thing with calculators and slide rules. We know that because they carry their pens in pocket protectors.

    In Carbajal's world, "jocks" hate "nerds" so much they send Paul to the hospital with a beating despite the fact that he is a cripple! What is this, Hitler High? No matter how you slice it, the abuse of some kid on leg braces and crutches is a shocking, disturbing crime that doesn't belong in what purports to be a light comedy. If it happened in a high school in New York it would be on the front page of the next day's Post and Daily News.

    Despite the play's many failings, director Mike Shapiro manages to elicit enjoyable performances from the production's many able cast members. Deron Bos is quietly magnetic as the sensitive, MS sufferer Paul. Mary Wigmore is effective in her double roles as the bubble-headed Cyndi and Ms. Roland, a comically touchy-feely teacher who watches out for Joey. But in the end, this trip back to school isn't worth it.

    FEBRUARY 13, 2003

    Reader comments on The Gifted Program:

  • This is a great play!!!!!!!   from Blane, Sep 13, 2005
  • Re: This is a great play!!!!!!!   from Jen, Oct 18, 2005
  • OMG I <3 The Gifted Program   from Jen, Oct 18, 2005

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