There is a certain irony to casting Gaby Hoffmann, she of the quirky New York Chelsea Hotel upbringing, in the role of a frustrated suburban teenager, but such is one of the many twists in the new production of Eric Bogosian’s play, “subUrbia,” now at the Second Stage Theatre.
Set in the fictional town of Burnfield, the play follows a group of aimless, delinquent teenagers as they spend a night spewing political vitriol, imbibing alcohol and drugs and causing general mayhem outside a 7-Eleven owned by a Pakistani brother and sister.
The play was originally shown at Lincoln Center in 1994 and has since been updated with BlackBerrys, cell phones, Vitamin Water (glimpsed through the store’s windows) and an all-star thespian little league, including Kieran Culkin, Jessica Capshaw, Halley Feiffer and Peter Scanavino. And, of course, Hoffmann, who plays Sooze, a passionate performance artist who dreams of escaping her suffocating ’burb for the promise of the Big Apple.
Though Sooze’s scenario is not familiar terrain for Hoffmann, who has been acting since the age of five, when she did commercial work to help support her mother and half-sister, she is adamant her character’s emotions were not as foreign as one might expect.
“She’s frustrated and bored, and she has a desire for something more. And I think that we’ve all felt that, regardless of where we come from or what we’ve done,” explains Hoffmann, sitting on a bench in a playground down the block from the theater.
Hoffmann, though, is clearly someone who has had a preternatural self-confidence since a young age. “At seven, I announced my retirement and didn’t work for six months and then said, ‘OK, I want to go back to work,’” she smiles. The daughter of Viva, a famed Warhol actress, she spent her early years in the Chelsea Hotel. At 11, well into a résumé including roles in “Field of Dreams,” “This Is My Life” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” Hoffmann and mom moved to Los Angeles, where she got a taste of the suburbia she currently inhabits on stage.
“It coincided with a job, but really I just wanted to live in a suburban house with a white picket fence and swimming pool…which I hated every second of,” she says. “We would hang out in cars, smoke pot in parking lots, fields…there’s nothing else to do.”
This story first appeared in the October 2, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As a teenager, the actress eschewed the movie-star path laid out before her. “I started just doing a lot of independent films, mostly with first-time directors,” Hoffmann explains. “I really only made bad movies during that time, but the reason I was attracted to them was because they were being sold to me with such incredible excitement and energy.”
She soon focused on college, attending Bard and believing she was done with films. But since graduating in 2004, she has performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and starred opposite Dianne Wiest in Wendy Wasserstein’s “Third” last fall. It seems the acting bug is one she just can’t shake, at least for now.
“I realized I really, really, really missed making movies and acting,” says Hoffmann, who has no immediate plans, acting or otherwise, once “subUrbia” finishes its run. “I grew up living and breathing this, and it’s really what I know. I took that for granted for a long time, that it serves a purpose in my life, and I love it.”