Bayside’s principal goes bad in ‘Breaking Belding’
BY MARISSA CURNUTTE February 13, 2013 4:44PM
“Breaking Belding” throws the characters of “Saved by the Bell” into the setting of AMC’s dark drama “Breaking Bad.”
♦ 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, through March 23
♦ Gorilla Tango’s Skokie Theatre, 7924 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie
♦ Tickets, $20
Updated: February 13, 2013 5:23PM
Mr. Belding transforms from compassionate, rule-following high school principal into a crazed drug lord in “Breaking Belding.”
Written by Pete Mandra, the “Saved by the Bell” meets “Breaking Bad” hour-long parody is running at Gorilla Tango’s Skokie Theatre.
The innocent characters of America’s beloved ’90s sitcom follow the general storyline of “Breaking Bad,” minus the extreme violence of the Emmy-nominated drama. After being diagnosed with cancer like “Breaking Bad” high school chemistry teacher Walter White, Mr. Belding teams up with his student Screech to cook meth in Max’s Diner — paying homage to Gus Fring at Los Pollos Hermanos in the AMC series.
“The play will show how a disease will change all your ethics and morals,” said director Shane Abbott, “how the skills we have can be used for good or bad, how and why you make those choices and continue to make those choices even when things are pretty apparent you’re going down the wrong road.”
In taking on the role of Mr. Belding, Casey Freund walks a fine line portraying two men in similar situations from polar opposite television shows.
“One of the great things about doing the role, you find where you make the transitions from one role to the other, and also where you combine the two,” Freund said.
Abbott cautioned his cast to not directly imitate actors from either show because he wanted a fresh spin for the hybrid play. He admits at first being stumped about how to pull off such a dichotomy.
“It’s been an amazing, great directing problem — how to tell the story and how to be faithful to these childhood characters,” he said.
Abbott did not want to denigrate the “Saved by the Bell” characters and promises fans will see the original Bayside 6 they grew up watching. Zack Morris is still most concerned about his hair and making sure Kelly Kapowski goes to the dance with him. Lisa Turtle is worried about money as always. Screech Powers is in love with Lisa. Jessie Spano is the overachiever. A.C. Slater may not be as buff as admirers remember, but he’s still A.C. Slater.
“What will be interesting is seeing how people take the ‘Breaking Bad’ mix in. It’s a very adult and complicated issue that you are inserting into a pretty vanilla world,” Abbott said.
A melting pot of the rest of the “Breaking Bad” characters, Zack and crew say and do things the drama’s followers will recognize from the series. One of the most iconic “Breaking Bad” scenes is when Walter White tells his wife, “I am not in danger, I AM the danger.”
“When you hear that within the context of what we’re doing in the play it’s hilarious,” Freund said. “Mr. Belding says that to Kelly. Finding these little gems of comedy amidst a lot of darkness is fun.”
Mixing a classic comedy with a modern-day drama also highlights how television has changed over the decades.
“We have gone really far,” Abbott said. “With ‘Saved by the Bell,’ everything got tied up in a nice bow at the end. Whereas ‘Breaking Bad,’ their problems never seem to get solved.”
Abbott, who has directed 10 plays for Gorilla Tango, said “Breaking Belding” is the craziest.
“You can get real highbrow about it and talk about how it’s the metamorphosis of man returning back to visit darker roots,” he said. “Or you can just say it’s a weird play.”
Marissa Curnutte is a local free-lance writer.