Not all good kids are good. Some use their brains as a façade to hide the bad that’s truly inside. There’s a common stereotype that all the smart kids in high school are good kids. This is absolutely not the case in Jacob Presson’s Very Bad Words. The play follows three privileged geniuses after they get tattled on for speaking their potty-mouthed minds, tarnishing their perfect reputations, and thus seeking revenge because how dare anyone do that!
The plot is pretty simple. Three kids get in trouble and play a prank on the kid who turned them in. The aftermath isn’t pretty. The kid then kills himself. Presson’s characters are smart, driven individuals who could only function as a trio. They are the offspring of the well-to-do who have no regard for consequences. When it looked like Steve, the tag-along, was going to have a complete character change, Presson decided to twist the ending and make it realistic. None of the characters change, something that doesn’t happen often and is unrealistic when it doesn't happen in plays of this nature. Hate the characters all you want, they’re real. Despite this, there were moments where the actions and reactions seemed contrived. Another scene of longer reaction time could have been used before the execution of Will, the ringleader's, final plan. The script comments heavily on the power of words and how in today’s society some of these hurtful words are meaningless. Except certain words were a catalyst for a horrible action. Presson’s characters spew very bad words in every sentence, distracting from the impact of the important words. Do they need the foul language throughout? Probably not. It seemed to be there for laughs. Let’s be honest, if you spewed out the words these three did in the school office in front of the secretary, this trio would have been expelled on the spot.
The cast of three worked well off of each other. As Will, PJ Adzmia made a despicable person loveable. Adzima is a natural, performing with great depth, from high comedy to intense dramatic. He was definitely the standout of the bunch. Adam Warwinsky’s vulnerability showed through as Steve. Though his character wasn’t consistent, Warwinsky shined when Steve displayed the paranoia side of the character. Olivia Macklin’s Taylor was annoying, which is exactly what she was written to be. In the end, she is equally, if not more, selfish as Will.
Director Jake Ahlquist does a wonderful job taking the extreme characters and circumstances and grounding them. He works the simplicity angle well. Emily Auciello’s sound design was lively and energetic, tying the scenes and monologues together nicely with Gary Slootisky’s lights.
The story is poignant. Though at times preachy, cleverly disguised through characters, Very Bad Words personifies the cruelty within these situations. You want these characters to lose and get what they deserve, but like real life, they end up winning in the end.