‘Eightythree Down,’ a Coming-of-Age Play Set in the Time of Haring and Basquiat

eightythreeDaniel Talbott Tony (Bryan Kaplan) and Dina (Melody Bates).

Four wildly different characters make up the cast of Eightythree Down, an airtight thriller-comedy written by J. Stephen Brantley, directed by Daniel Talbott and now playing at Under St. Marks. First we meet Martin. Even during the raucous, drug-riddled eighties, he’s content to spend New Year’s Eve at his parents’ house, reading about birds (his obsession) in his quilted bed. A Cyndi Lauper poster on the wall and Duran Duran on the stereo hint at the year that’s about to pass – 1983. But crashing into this subdued suburban New York scene comes his old high-school friend Dina, played by a dynamic Melody Bates. She’s accompanied by her East Village roommates: Stuart (Ian Holcomb) is a gay English punk-rocker, and Tony (Bryan Kaplan) is his beefcake Italian-American polar opposite. The only thing these “silly boys” have in common is their love for Dina.

Clad in black leather, the half-brilliant, half-batty blonde (clearly a student of Madonna) bounces between the arms of Stuart and Tony while making her best effort to bring Martin up to speed on her new life. She is friends with a transvestite named Sal as well as with Keith Haring and Basquiat. The producer Jellybean Benitez recently encouraged her to “work on herself.”

“It’s all been such a whirligig,” she giggles, but Martin, whom she affectionately dubs Smarty, smells an ulterior motive. Indeed, the trio is in a “treacherous pickle”: During a heated Scrabble dispute, they shot a man and stole his uncle’s prized book collection. They now plan to sell the books and hightail it to Mexico, and all they need is a car – namely, Martin’s father’s convertible, which Dina remembers so fondly from their high school days. And if Martin knows what’s good for him, Tony threatens while brandishing a gun, he won’t get in their way.

Between Stuart’s fast-paced innuendo, Dina’s train-wreck charm, and Tony’s violent (and at times overacted) outbursts, Martin barely gets a word in, except to accuse Dina of being an “interruptive species.” But in the end, her mess of a life — violent, dangerous but filled with love – urges him to start his own. His transformation carries the emotion and climax of the play.

Reminiscent of a John Hughes movie but with more depth and wit, Eightythree Down turns out to be a subtle coming-of-age story, and a New Year’s Eve party not to be missed.

Eightythree Downat Under St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place) through Sept. 17. Tickets $18. Visit www.horsetrade.info or call 212-868-4444.