Friday, May 30, 2014

REVIEW: Jane the Plain


It's a typical story. Girl meets boy. Girl and boy get together. Boy distributes girl's sext all over school. Mirror-man and glowing girl fight an unearthly battle across the surface of the earth.

Nobody Does It Better
At this point, Gus Schulenberg and Flux Theater Ensemble have a lot of my faith when I come to see their productions. I know I can expect a primal story about the nature of love and innocence, with beautiful but subtle language, sharply defined characters, that can take the most universal turns of human experience and expand them to the scale of Greek Mythology. Flux's production of Adam Szymkowicz' Hearts Like Fists (my review here),

It's a question of style, and of skillfulness. The plot, on paper, might look like a stage adaptation of Mean Girls -- Jane the Plain (Alisha Spielmann), is "the plain girl", and she has a big crush on Scotty the Hottie (Chinaza Uche). At first, he seems out of her league, but she happens to be on hand when he throws the a great ball during the big game. When they get together, everyone seems hell-bent on putting Jane back in her place -- the viper-like Betty the Pretty (Becky Byers) in particular plots her destruction, and scorned best friend Leonard the Awkward (Isiah Tanenbaum) is none to happy either. Even Leeson the Decent (Chester Poon)

But something else is going on under the surface. Scottie is haunted by a memory that seems much larger than this world, and Jane has a vision that night that transforms her from Jane the Plain into a powerful force -- perhaps too powerful for her own good, as Lexi the Sexy (Sol Crespo) tries to warn her.

That Extra Oomph
It's not just the plot that has something else going on under the surface -- it's every part of the production. The writing, for instance, puts words into the mouths of these confused youths that evoke the deep pools of magic that every naive young high schooler secretly sees in the world. When Scottie talks about throwing the ball on the field -- even when he's just alone, working through his fields -- it has all the majesty of tales from past Olympics, World Cups -- tales of Hercules. When a character opens their mouth and describes what's happening inside of them, every word is a beautifully crafted image that you haven't heard before.

And the extra oomph is the performers. In my previous review of Hearts like Fists, and of Obskene, I highlighted Chinaza Uche's ability to put such passion and deep sincerity that he can sell even the most outlandish or overblown writing. The same applies to every single member of this talented cast. In the crucial early stages of the play, when the mythical undertones first begin to rear their heads, any fakeness or theatricality could have undercut the quality of the performance. But each of the cast members navigates those treacherous waters to turn the performance into something more powerful than any of its parts.

Sorry We Missed You!
I  write all of this knowing that you won't go and see this, namely because the show has closed -- I saw it on closing night -- but mostly to provide a record, and to laud the excellent work on all involved, and to hope that we'll see more of this production, and new productions that push the line of how big and bold our genuine selves can be.

No comments: