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Local students power electric 'Union'

Halfway into Kirsten Greenidge's multi-story-line play ''A More Perfect Union," it's hard to imagine that its threads will ever come together. What could an immigrant teacher facing deportation possibly have to do with a trio of African-American boys out for a joy ride, or an Eastern European woman trying to track down her prostitute daughter?

Geared to the attention span of the MTV generation, some of the play's scenes flit by as speedily as the background images projected as visual reinforcement. One thing is certain: The atmosphere, chaotic as it is, is electric with promise. The younger members of the cast -- seven Boston Arts Academy students, supplementing nine professionals -- represent, as Company One artistic director Shawn LaCount (their theater teacher at the public pilot school) describes them, ''the next generation of artists."

Some 50 students were involved in this project, from conceptualization and character development to the impressive stagecraft. Mark Buchanan's set makes optimal use of an awkward black-box space: Two coppery grids, spanning one corner and framing platforms that tumble toward the audience, adapt with ease to domestic, street, and institutional settings alike. The characters we are seeing determine where we are. As dramatic arcs emerge -- rapidly, under Juanita Rodrigues's deft direction -- the physical locations seamlessly shift.

The springboard for the project is the plight of Fenway High School teacher Obain Attouoman (portrayed by Doublas Theadore). In 2005, Attouoman was jailed on a deportation warrant and threatened with the prospect of being returned to Ivory Coast, where, as a former political prisoner, he faced near-certain death. Student activism has since helped him secure a temporary reprieve. Onstage, this plotline is, of necessity, static and contained: Attouoman spends the bulk of the play confined to a holding cell. He's the center around which the other stories unfold.

Providing an antithesis to this activist whose choices have been radically curtailed is high-schooler Abby, a consummate Material Girl played winningly by Tina Do. Abby is into the good life and seemingly impervious to the counterconsumerist cautions offered by her buddy Pete (Damean Hollis, whose playful edge keeps the role from becoming too earnest). The pair act as something of a Greek chorus, not reacting directly to the action but serving as reminders of the blind, pampered lives that can entrap us, our senses numbed by the blandishments of mass media.

Prep school student Vaughn (Eladio Banks, a natural, as are his counterparts Michael Cognata and Taoe Clarke) leads just such a charmed life until he makes the mistake of borrowing his mother's fancy car and ''driving while black." A brutal cop (Raymond Ramirez, a Boston Arts Academy graduate who's now a Company One regular) introduces Vaughn to the harsher realities of hard-core racism -- a theme picked up in video segments in which David Curtis portrays CNN reporter Cooper Kelly covering Hurricane Katrina. These segments strike a false note, but Curtis pulls off a powerful scene in which Cooper tries to reconcile with an ex-girlfriend (played with vitriol by Magda Spasiano) fed up with his compulsion to stand against injustice.

That's the underlying message pervading this polyphonic script, which -- cleverly, and with a keen ear for the ironies of pop culture -- succeeds in conveying the power of voices raised in unison.

It's not a flawless play: The sex-trafficking story line plays out like an episode of ''Law & Order: SVU." The real gems are the low-key moments when the kids are just hanging out and musing -- for instance, on what the Founding Fathers would have made of such freakish freedom-of-expression phenomena as ''Fear Factor."

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