90s teen sitcoms find a new home on the stage with “Zach” by Christian St. Croix at Artswest. The play follows Gina (Amber Walker) and PJ (Michael Nevárez) as they traverse their newfound popularity when Zach, a new student, selects them to be part of his clique. Gina is a fashionista, a secretly skilled carpenter, and one of the few black students in her school. PJ is goofy, a great dancer, and Latino. Zach, who is “American. Caucasian. Heterosexual. Capricorn,” creates many problems for Gina and PJ as they traverse through their primarily white high school. The two face average teenage problems such as dating, friendships, and popularity, along with blatant racism from those around them. This element is woven throughout familiar sitcom tropes, blending the two together to point out harmful stereotypes and real-world struggles that marginalized people face. Throughout the play, the two help each other to find themselves and navigate Zach’s oppressive domination of the school’s social scene.
Actors Amber Walker and Michael Nevárez shine in this production, playing over 10 characters throughout the play. The direction and minimal set/costume changes allowed for these actors to quickly jump from one character to the next, often switching back and forth between who is playing who. This was incredibly effective as each actor made strong distinctions between characters, bringing the world to life. This innovative choice also aided the comedy throughout, as the actors were able to switch their voices, personalities, and demeanors on a dime. The two played besties, lovers, enemies, and more, all with eminent chemistry. The play was fast-paced, clocking in at 75 minutes, keeping the audience thoroughly entertained. The 90s sitcom effect was achieved with laugh tracks, montage sequences, and (at times) goofy over-the-top exaggerations. I was laughing throughout the show during both moments of genuine comedy and so-bad-it’s-funny one-liners.
The more serious elements of the play point out the struggles that low-income, nonwhite, and queer teenagers face, marking something that is starkly left out of 90’s sitcoms: diversity. St. Croix brings Gina and PJ’s stories into the conversation and shows how they would really face the high school worlds portrayed in films. In doing this, “Zach” takes the tropes of well-known films and flips them on their head as commentary. Though this was generally effective, certain moments felt simplistic and left without nuance. In order to keep the lighthearted and comedic tone, the topics discussed were often right on the nose. Though this did serve to call out the biases that many people hold, I also felt that these portrayals were at times simplistic, dividing the world into two categories: Good Guys and Bad Guys, and leaving no room for those who are subtly or even unintentionally discriminatory. This choice was effective for capturing the feeling of a sitcom but made certain issues seem overly simple. However, the main goal of this play is achieved by bringing comedy, joy, and friendship to the stage in a new way, which can often be as powerful as tragic stories. The effervescence of “Zach” is what makes it special, and it brings an important representation of joy to the stage while still acknowledging real-world issues.
“Zach” is a wonderful story brought to life by two thoughtful actors and an innovative creative team. This play offers its spin on the world it inhabits, bringing back memories without missing a single trope, while also offering a new and previously overlooked perspective. Gina and PJ are lovable and they make the perfect team, hitting you with familiar sitcom bits from the start. If you are looking for a funny, joyful, and important story, “Zach” is the way to go!