Talk About Dysfunctional!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Take one imaginative teen age girl whose mother has died and who does not communicate with her father at all, mix in some fantasy involving her sexuality, demeanor and need for a confidante and you have the recipe for a very intriguing evening of theater! In their opening foray at their new digs in TPAC, Stray Cat Theater has proved once again that they are “on the edge” and balancing very nicely, thank you. Director Ron May has brought together some fine actors, chosen a play which will give you much to think about and produced it with some excellent technical help from a team which includes Benjamin Monrad on Sound design, Wolfram Ott on Light Design, and David Castellano on Scenic Design. Together they have created a stimulating show which is off the beaten path, but not so far off that it leaves you wondering why the author bothered to write it in the first place. (I have seen too many shows like that where being different morphs into being incomprehensible.) This one is well performed and well produced and while it may not be everyone’s bag, is worth seeing.

The author uses an interesting gimmick by tying the tale of a contemporary teenager to the age old tale of Helen of Troy. Charlotte (very well played by recent high school graduate Willa Darian) has just lost her mother and in an attempt to deal with this, likens herself to the daughter of the beautiful Helen of Troy, convinced (as the program notes say) that “beauty, desire and fame can help her bring her mother back and destroy the world that took her away in the first place”. Along the way, she fights constantly with her boorish father (strongly played by Cale Epps), who does not understand her at all; tries to seduce her bookish friend Franklin (beautifully played by Aaron Wester); fantasizes a relationship with her guidance counselor Gary (wonderfully enacted by Benjamin Monrad); creates an imaginary friend Heather (delightfully brought to life by Michele Chin) who eggs her on to more misadventures; and throws herself at football jock Freddie ( excellently played by Benjamin Burt) who does not know or care that she exists. All in all, Charlotte tries and tries but succeeds at nothing. One of my favorite lines was, “Everything beautiful dies – only the ugly sticks around. If I live past 35, I will be so upset.” (That may not be verbatim but you get the idea.) Anyone who ever raised a teen has heard that many times. It is only in the last scene that we see a glimmer of hope that things may yet turn around for her and she will find her place in the universe. This is, indeed, a powerful coming of age story.

The staging of the show is top notch. Using a simple but effective set, May has created some terrific scenes, particularly in the dream sequences. The blocking is intense when the verbal abuse (which almost every character heaps on Charlotte) turns to physical abuse. And the very poignant scene, where Franklin appears onstage after being beaten up because Charlotte told someone he was gay, is excellent. This show is not for anyone who shies away from strong language or vivid sexual displays so be forewarned.

...If you go to see it before October 11, you may find that dysfunctional makes for good theater.

Everything Will Be Different