‘Leper + Chip’ coddles up with gritty teenage angst and love

Katie Reing

There’s more to adolescence than homecomings, proms and college applications. “Leper + Chip,” presented by Inis Nua Theater Company, tells the grittier, raucous side of growing up. It’s a challenging glimpse at the lives of two teens who discover love in a frantic, antagonistic moment of hostility.

At a party, Chip and her friends instigate a fight with a boy, Leper, that ends badly. Leper goes on to pursue revenge, sparking a chaotic stream of events that are violent, frenetic and — well, comical. Where “Leper + Chip” throws menacing punches, it pokes fun and hints at romance, bringing levity to an otherwise heavy situation: Being a teenager is dangerous business.

Coming-of-age stories often do adolescence a disservice. Many narratives talk down to characters and minimize their problems, but “Leper + Chip” offers bountiful respect to the teens it portrays. “These characters are wounded individuals, stuck in bad situations,” artistic director Tom Reing said in an interview. “They are impulsive and it gets them into trouble but that impulse also leads to love.” “Leper + Chip” does this sort of story justice.

Liam Mulshine, who plays Leper, talks about the challenge of playing the role, “Leper is this brash, wild inner city Dublin kid who tells it like it is and wants to make sure everyone around him knows he’s the man, the one in charge.”

Mulshine goes on to comment about how portraying Leper stirred up memories of his own adolescence: “The show feels viscerally real to me and I try to imbue my performance with all of the excitement and angst and intensity I remember feeling when I was Leper’s age.”

“Leper + Chip” is the kind of art that demands to be noticed. The angst that permeates the teenage years never goes away. The residual effects find their way into our personalities as adults, which makes “Leper + Chip” excruciatingly relevant. We’re just a bunch of grown up kids desperately seeking for acknowledgment and making mistakes along the way.

Actress Katie Stahl (Chip) weighs in on the characters’ problems, “They live in the slums of Dublin, have such a strong instinct to fight and are dealing with some pretty big issues — family relationships, drugs and money.”

Stahl digs deep into her own adolescence, recalling personal experiences she had grown to block from memory. That was when she felt truly connected to Chip:

“Once the characters start opening up, it’s hard not to relate to them,” she concludes. “It has taught me to live life more fully, to appreciate each person for who they are, and to love to the greatest extent. Every opportunity is a chance to challenge yourself.” Adolescence is a learning experience, and it might be the most important and complicated one of our lives.

“Leper + Chip” runs for a total of 16 performances, through March 5 at the Louis Bluver Theater at The Drake. Tickets are on sale now for $25-35 at inisnuatheatre.org/leper-chip.

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