Wednesday, June 16, 2010

POW! (Play Of The Week)

From Up Here
by Liz Flahive

The dysfunctional family. Sometimes you just want to say it’s redundant, all unhappy families are alike, and move on. Then along comes an irresistible play, From Up Here by Liz Flahive, which takes the ancient topic and makes it absolutely mysterious and new.

Unpopular high school senior Kenny has done something terrible. So heinous that he’s become a prisoner of his affluent white suburb. On his first day back to school his backpack is searched, he can’t go anywhere without adult supervision, monitors watch his every move. The other students shun and stare. And the now infamous Kenny must deliver a speech of apology to the entire student body and staff. The cause? Something about a gun…

In Liz Flahive’s debut play, she examines the impact on Kenny’s family as they struggle to deal with him and his crime. His cold, career-driven mother, Grace, is about to crack; and her new younger husband, Daniel, functions more like a sweet new wife who packs lunches for the kids and picks up the dry cleaning. Also a high school outcast, Kenny’s loyal younger sister, Lauren, has become prematurely promiscuous and cynical. Even the pets are messed up—hapless Kenny is bitten by his own dogs. Blood may be thicker than water but this is one thirsty family.

The family is knocked sideways by the arrival of Kenny’s exuberant, untamed Aunt Caroline, a member of the Peace Corp who blows in from the Himalayas to support him— although she insists on camping outside in her tent. To her disgust, Lauren is pursued by Charlie, a naïve senior who courts her with innocent charm and dreadful songs on bad guitar. Meanwhile Kenny is mentored by exemplary classmate Kate who uses Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky speech to prep him for his public apology. In truth, Kate’s befriended Kenny in order to sell his story to the press.

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly familiar territory. Flahive doesn’t dabble in clichés. Themes of love, identity, risk, failure, bullying and the troubled lives of white American values are explored with rare insight, compassion and humor. Her generous humanity is conveyed through short, tight scenes, dead-on dialogue and the rare ability to render valid every character’s point of view.

Can Kenny be saved when his isolation, despair and rage are titanic? Will the family survive intact? The play is open-ended. Flahive delivers a terrific package but she doesn’t tie any bows.

Cast: 3M, 4W

Monologues for Kenny, Charlie, Grace, Caroline. Two-person scenes throughout.

Reviewed by Helen

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