Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Things You Can Do omits actual advice

Things You Can Do (Roberta Christensen)
Things You Can Do
Live Girls! Theater
(at ACTLab)
Through July 31, 2016

Things You Can Do is a world premiere play by Kristen Palmer, a playwright with a solid list of produced plays who is also the artistic director of a theater for young people in Connecticut. The play includes three intelligent women, an intelligent girl, and a street-smart guy. Live Girls! Theater has been working on the script for quite a while, starting with public readings in 2013.

The big theme in the play is glacial ice, permafrost, and climate change. The small theme is whether you can do much about the big issues in life when your individual life is pretty much falling apart. Stevie (Hannah Ruwe) is a scientist, writing her PhD thesis on permafrost. But something has driven her to leave her school and suddenly appear back in her small Virginia town, even before she’s called her mother to say she’s back.

Mom Clara (Alyson Bedford) finds out Stevie is back when she gets an emergency call from her friend Fiona (Maria Glanz) that Stevie has fallen into the frozen river and needs to be picked up and taken home. Slacker-guy Fletcher (Jonah Martin) has saved Stevie from drowning, but Fiona has a feeling Stevie’s action might have been more than an accident.

All the females in this play have mass problems. Clara is an insecure, overly busy single mother who has no clue what to do with her rebellious, drug-taking, school-skipping teen daughter, Bella (Clara Hayes), much less how to talk to her adult daughter about her daughter’s life away.

Stevie doesn’t understand herself or her emotions, though it turns out she’s done some very inappropriate decision-making herself. Does that mean she might be suicidal and can’t bring herself to recognize it?

Fiona is struggling with her own mortality, and Bella feels like the neglected little sister whose big sister totally outclasses her own intellectual abilities. Fletcher seems like the only person who doesn’t quite care enough about much to worry.

Aside from selling drugs to kids like Bella, Fletcher’s other aim appears to be getting Stevie to sleep with him, while listening to him play guitar. Martin’s portrayal of this lackluster character gives him an odd charm and he almost steals the show from the angst-ridden women.

The little theme, then, focuses on frozen emotions, thoughts unsaid or unshared, and how to thaw your family into a functioning unit. I’m not sure the play works all that well. There is a lot of smart writing, sometimes engaging dialogue, and actors who work hard at breathing life into their roles.

But much of it ends up feeling like a giant pity party. Ruwe is an engaging actor who almost makes us want to root for the home-girl, despite her prickly and inarticulate ways. She’s given long monologues about the permafrost which she delivers with every earnest morsel she can muster, but the diatribes about global warming fail to alarm us.

Though Stevie has spent years studying these phenomena, she apparently has no fucking idea what to do to stop any of the climate change. How unsatisfying. What good is studying how wrong something is without applying some real thought into what can be done instead?

By the end of the play, everyone is supposed to have attained better equilibrium, but the reasons are still murky and the outcome still cloudy.

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