The Outsiders

Northwest Children's Theater, 1819 NW Everett, 222-4480, Fri-Sat 7 pm, Sun 2 pm, through April 25, $18

Like many others from my generation, I read and reread S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders during my formative years and what I remember about it has far more to do with tone and style than plot. I remember how the greasers are like a big family always looking out for each other; the tender friendship between Ponyboy and Johnny; and Hinton's dialogue--so stereotypical matinee idol tough, yet full of the breathless passion of an unadulterated 16-year-old. I remember the words within The Outsiders and their joyful flow. The story is an afterthought.

In NWCT's stage adaptation of The Outsiders, many elements from the book are missing. Gone is the dynamic family chemistry between the Curtis bros Darry, Sodapop, and Ponyboy; gone are the rich characterizations of troubled Dallas, and sweetly endearing Sodapop. These things have been gutted to cram The Outsiders' frequently hackneyed storyline into a bite-sized 90-minute chunk.

Director John Monteverde and his sizable cast don't seem to understand how highly stylized Hinton's vision was. It's basically melodrama, with its ridiculous feud between the greasers and socs, and with skinny Johnny Cade's heroic sacrifice to rescue kids from a burning building. NWCT plays this all straight, as if it's gritty realism. But these kids need to be bold and over-the-top, flashing their combs and switchblades and swaggering around like bulls in heat. Instead they all, with the exception of Blake Lowell--who is perfectly cast as the mousy, abused Johnny--seem tentative, as if they're afraid to cut loose and act like real tough guys.

I have to wonder if Monteverde and his gang are afraid. The Outsiders is, like all NWCT productions, aimed at families, yet the play is loaded with deranged kids smoking, boozing, and killing each other. It's a strange choice, and perhaps the NWCT honchos thought the content was messed up enough without imbuing everybody with the wild and dangerous recklessness of true gang members. But it's that recklessness that Hinton was in love with when she wrote the book, and it's the one thing that continues to make her book relevant to a generation of young adults no longer phased by kids with knives. JUSTIN SANDERS