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Is American Idiot at Berkeley Rep appropriate for teens?

October 2009

Have you seen the Berkeley Rep production of American Idiot? My kids are in 6th and 8th grade (12 and 14). They love Green Day and like theater. They really want to see the Berkeley Rep production of American Idiot. They know the Green Day album well. And, I'm generally not into censuring my kids' exposure to drug and sex references or language of any kind. I'm hesitant about the show though, particularly with the 6th grader. My hesitancy is mostly because there's a reference to suicide in the music and I wonder if it's a focus in the show. It occurs to me too there may be other issues I just haven't thought about. Please pipe in. parent

Don't be concerned about the suicide reference. The character in question does shoot himself on stage when that line is sung, but with a gun that shoots out a flag that says ''bang!'' I thought the scene was funny, actually.

Regarding the drugs: there is almost constant smoking (cigarettes, joints and a bong). There is relatively graphic depiction of heroin use (prepping the heroin and shooting up, following by collapse in drug stupor). Some sex references, one sex scene (the actors in underwear and under the covers -- not too bad). Heavy duty use of the ''f'' word in spoken and sung dialogue. I thought the story was generally angry and nihilistic, but my kids thought it had a happy ending.

I took my 13 year old (8th grader) and was comfortable with him seeing it. I also took my 4th grader, which I feel less comfortable about, but live and learn. Whether it is okay for your kids depends on your kids and your feelings about these issues.

There were lots of teens there and we all enjoyed the show. I hope this is helpful. Karen

Let's see - at that age my kids were watching Ophelia snuff it after Hamlet acted like a jerk to her. Just this summer we watched (a couple of times too - just had to see it again) a crazed hunchback royal Dick setup his own brother, kill his wife, eliminate a couple of bothersome kids, knock off a bunch of stupid courtiers (including the Duke of Buckingham - he always seems to get waxed doesn't he?) and he couldn't even find a horse to finish the job. Wow, isn't Shakespeare violent? :-)

If they want to go and see it, go with them. You can provide context and frame the questions, like why are those three witches so important to MacBeth and why is Hamlet so self-absorbed? For that matter, did Medea really have to kill her kids to get back at her lousy husband? And how long did it take for Odysseus to get home, and was it absolutely necessary for him to not only kill 100 ''suitors'' but also to string up (literally) all the servant girls who slept with them while they ate everything in his house?

The most important thing is to share your perspective and experience. Plays are great fun and opportunities to share opinions. And the best part of all is that they have interesting opinions they can share with you that otherwise you'd not have heard. After all, the play's the thing wherein you'll catch the conscience of the King...and the audience. Lynne

Good timing on your question. I just got an email from a friend who saw it, cautioning me about the content. She said there is a scene in which two characters have sex on stage, under some covers, but it is still obvious and somewhat graphic. Later in that scene, the male character walks around nude with an erection. I guess it plays funny but, again, it is very graphic. That info made us decide to not take our 5th grade daughter (10 yrs old). I know sex is natural, etc., but she seems a bit young for that level of input I think she'd be uncomfortable, too. She wouldn't even see that in an R movie and she doesn't go to those either. We are taking my 14 year old son (freshman). A few of his friends have seen it and their parents said it was fine for that age.
I took my 16 year old and he loved it. It is definitely R-rated: there is a sex scene center stage, graphic drug use (pot and heroin), lots of language, and a death (I thought it was an overdose.)For adults and sophisticated teens, it's an amazing production and well worth it. I would not recommend it for your sixth grader, based on your concerns. I am letting my 14-year-old see it because he is pretty savvy, and we can talk about it afterward. The characters who use drugs end up badly, so drug use is not glorified, which I appreciated. I loved it, but I'd preview it, if I were you. a mom of teens
I saw American Idiot a couple weeks ago with hubby & adult friends. It's brilliant! A friend and I are going back next week and I'm taking my youngest, a third grader, who loves this music. I wouldn't say that everyone should take their kids to this show, but definitely if you have a kid who loves Green Day/ American Idiot, don't miss it! It won't be here for much longer. If you aren't familiar with Green Day's music youself, do listen to American Idiot a few times before you go - it will increase your enjoyment (youtube has videos!).

American Idiot is an opera, so the plot is basically a device that provides a structure for the music. It is not like Rent, where the music takes back seat to the plot. It's more like La Boheme, which has sex, alcohol and tragic death as the background for fantastic music. Both are all about the music, and American Idiot is 95% very loud, exuberant rock music, played well, sung well, and with dancing and an eye-popping production design to go with. Here are the details about the other 5%, which you may want to discuss with your kid ahead of time: There are numerous 4-letter words, not unlike what is on your typical punk rock album. There is one stylized sex scene between the clothed main characters (think Mimi and Rodolfo) which is really more like a dance on a bed-like platform that raises up and down. There is drug use, which will probably go right over the heads of any kids who haven't before seen someone cooking up heroin and injecting it. This is not glorified drug use - the context is clear that these characters have hit rock bottom. The overall theme is the classic one of angst and confusion, followed by retribution and resolution - a very exhilarating performance! 50-Something Music Lover

I asked my 14-year old 9th grader, because his tastes and my attitudes seemed similar to what you posted. He said he would have been all right seeing it in 8th grade (first he said ''maybe,'' then he said it would have been okay.) But he thought it would have been ''kind of weird'' to see it in 6th grade, he didn't think that would have been good. Actually he's not remembering a suicide part, but he says there's a graphic shooting up scene, some passing of heroin packets and a morning-after-sex scene where the actors are barely dressed. He went when someone suddenly had a free ticket, but for myself, I would have passed on it. Even if there weren't anything really disturbing, the whole world of the play is not how I want us to spend our free time. I am willing to support a talented band through their album, which we can turn on and off, but not through spending a night and all the money in their downer. Life is hard enough. I wish you peace of mind with whatever decision you make! It's Your Choice
I've seen American Idiot at the Berkeley Rep and it is definitely entertaining, fast and edgy. There is 'bad' language but I could not understand much of it. They do have the lyrics available in print after the show and you may want to avoid those. I didn't think it was promoting drugs or suicide. A Berkeley Parent
I've seen the show twice. Be ready for fairly realistic sex on stage where the participants are joined by a rubber hose from their drug use. They also shoot up several times. I would not be concerned with suicide in the show.

There is a lot to look at and it's pretty loud and energetic for a musical. I probably would have thought it was awesome as a 6th grader but would have been confused and not too happy to be sitting next to my mom during certain scenes. Green Day Fan

I saw American Idiot last week and agree with the general tenor of the prior advice: suitable for 'tweens, MAYBE, depending on the individual child, and parents should definitely talk about the more mature themes. But mostly I'm writing to correct misinformation from the poster (who got this info secondhand) who said that there's a scene where a male walks around nude with an erection. That didn't happen. There was no nudity - though in several scenes actors are in their underwear. Either that or I need new glasses. Enjoyed the Show
I need to correct my response in the previous newsletter. My friend had told me there was nudity but there wasn't! Also, the main character didn't have an erection, so maybe that was an unfortunate incident the night she went. Actors are in their underwear and sex is simulated pretty realistically onstage by semiclothed actors.

We had opted to not take our 10 year old daughter based on my friend's review. I think she probably could have handled it, but much of it would have gone over her head so it would have been a waste of a ticket.

Just wanted to respond to the poster who said ''She said there is a scene in which two characters have sex on stage, under some covers, but it is still obvious and somewhat graphic. Later in that scene, the male character walks around nude with an erection.''

There is no nudity in this play, and I'm not sure where the info about a character having an erection came from. Many other people posted the same week who saw American Idiot, and as they all said, there are characters in their underwear and a morning-after stylized sex scene. It is obvious, but I wouldn't call it graphic. jessica