To paraphrase a popular 1990s song lyric, is it just me or is the Chicago theater scene starting to smell more and more like teen spirit? “Good Boys and True, ” courtesy of the Steppenwolf, started things off in late winter. In the spring, “The Attemptors” took up residence at the House and will reprise a run this summer at Theater on the Lake. And “Speech and Debate” is a hit at ACT, having recently announced a two-week extension due to strong ticket sales. Just when you thought you might get out, Griffin Theatre is certain to pull you back in with “Be More Chill,” William Massolia’s adaptation of author Ned Vizzini’s young adult hit novel from 2004. Like the aforementioned trio of teen angst dramas that precedes it, “Be More Chill” has at its center a young, moody and awkward teenager grappling with indecision and peer pressure. And as in these other dramas, there’s an individual for whom our anti-hero pangs, and a best friend on the sidelines ready to provide comfort or a quick reality check when necessary. Unlike the others, however, it displays an imaginative flair in its narrative that borders on the sci-fi when it sees our protagonist go from “totally geek” to “totally sheik”—to borrow a line from the similarly themed 1980s teen-angst comedy “Can’t Buy Me Love”—with the aid of a Sony-manufactured super pill that lodges itself in its user’s brain and instructs them on how to “be more chill” (and in the voice of Keanu Reeves because the rights to Brad Pitt’s weren’t available). It’s all cute and charming stuff, and Massolia and director Jonathan Berry’s admirable dramaturgical contribution is to make the super pill—what in the novel is a mere voice in the teenager’s head—a living, breathing character onstage clad in Reeves’ trench-coat bad-ass digs from “The Matrix.” Massolia’s script retains large chunks of Vizzini’s snappy and authentic teenage vernacular that gives the piece a lot of its punch, and Barry’s perky production is appealing in its youthful exuberance, optimism and ability to effectively harness the raw talent of its mostly young and fresh cast. Certainly not ground-breaking theater but definitely mood-breaking: I left the performance on a high and feeling a bit more chill myself. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, (773)327-5252. This production is now closed.