american idiot play.jpg Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.) and St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent) find a touching moment in “American Idiot.” Photo courtesy of Berkeley Rep.

As a so-called “rock opera,” Berkeley Rep’s American Idiot looks good. It sounds good. But what does it all mean? No, really. Is it theater or just a string of music videos put on stage?

Running at roughly 85 minutes, the show slaps together all of Green Day’s American Idiot album plus a handful of other songs from the band. Thumbing through the program before Wednesday’s show, I wondered how that could even be possible. Well, if you cut out the dialogue…

So it looks good. Michael Mayer-directed, the show (because, let’s face it, it’s neither a play nor a musical) features choreography reminiscent of Spring Awakening plus a few of its stars, like John Gallagher, Jr. The stage looks like the inside of 924 Gilman, the Berkeley punk venue where Green Day spent a few of their early nights. Posters line the very, very tall walls. Papers litter the ground. The band that supplies the show’s music become part of the set. Bright and brash, TV screens dot the walls.

These kids look like the bastard children of Telegraph Avenue streetpunks and the high school students who shoplift Urban Outfitters, in a good way. Until you realize you hate those streetpunks and the snots who shoplift Urban Outfitters. And despite having a stellar and obviously multi-talented cast, American Idiot doesn’t really give you much reason to like or care for these kids either. Except, of course, if you have a fangirl obsession with Spring Awakening, which many people legitimately do.

But it looks good. It is just like watching TV, specifically MTV before it got rid of all its music videos. Songs crash into one another, some without even a dialogue segue. Music video after music video, the show sucks you in. It’s entertaining. It’s jukebox theater, as my +1 and fellow events writer friend put it.

The show is sure to be a hit, especially with the Bay Area crowd. Guitars and jabs at war, that’s all you need, right? Unfortunately, all this angst seems a little outdated (and ungrounded, especially considering that you don’t know what the hell is going on or why even). Dubya is out, you know. And heroin? C’mon, everyone knows the psychedelics are back in fashion…as well as back in “the recent past” (a.k.a circa 2004), the setting of the show.

I know, I sound catty. I blame the PR machine that hyped up the show. In all its glory, American Idiot remains stuck bemoaning the past and clearly upset about something. It’s fitting, considering that the Bay Area still thinks that Dubya is a good target. (It’s hard scraping off that “I voted but all I got was this lousy president” bumper sticker.) Being part of the Bay Area crowd, I enjoyed the show. Really, truly, I did. But like cotton candy, the more I tasted the sugary fluff (if you can compare punks to sugary fluff), the more I realized that there was nothing there, no actual stuff. Plus, I don’t like cotton candy.

American Idiot now runs until November 1. Tickets are available on the Berkeley Rep site.

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