Thursday, September 28, 2017

Forward Flux - Always (At Least) Interesting

The cast of las mariposas y los muertos (Joe Moore)
las mariposas y los muertos (world premiere)
By Benjamin Benne
Forward Flux Productions
Through October 7, 2017

Two sisters and a best friend, frustrated with the music on the indie-rock scene, decide to form a band. In this one-act, playwright Benjamin Benne shoves a boatload of subject matter and some original rock songs by Angie Citiali Vance into a short space.

First there is the rise and dysfunction of the trio, Elena (Sophie Franco), little sister Celestina (Jordi Montes), and Molly (Grace Carmack). They spar over what to name the band, deciding on Las Mariposas (The Butterflies) because butterflies live beautiful but short lives. They spar over whether to include Spanish in their lyrics. Elena writes most of their music until Celestina wants to write one song that suddenly becomes popular.

Elena, written as a whiny, bitchy, unself-aware ass, gets more and more bent out of shape about the one popular song, which uses Latinx iconography to ironic effect. Then it becomes Molly’s problem. Molly, after all, wanted the name, and the Spanish lyrics, and helped write the popular song, and….. Molly is WHITE! It doesn’t help that Molly speaks better Spanish than either sister and can communicate with their grandmother (Anabel Hovig) in her language.

The play does not seem to make Elena a joke, though. We’re supposed to take her seriously.

An area Benne does make a joke, to great effect, is how the band is evaluated by press, all of whom are random white men.

The songs seem inseparable from the play. They are a rock band, after all, so they should at least play and sing once, though it could be recorded, perhaps. But the songs take up a bit too much time given how much territory the play wants to cover.

The family drama is important and doesn’t get nearly enough time. There is a dead mother and tremendous angst about that that is not exploited. Also, Hovig speaks almost entirely in Spanish and it is not translated for the audience. It almost feels like a bulk of the theme of the play is said in Spanish. Those who spoke Spanish in the audience (I understand a tiny, tiny amount) laughed a lot and I was jealous.

Hovig makes a compelling grandmother stereotype with aspects of magical realism. Franco does a good job as lead singer, but can’t overcome the nastiness of her character. Carmack does a great job as a best friend and white apologist, in an unfortunate position. Montes is a good actor and played the drums well. But there is no way she’s a younger sister in this trio.

Lance Valdez and Kiki Abba in No More Sad Things (J Reese)
No More Sad Things (world premiere)
By Hansol Jung
Forward Flux Productions
Through October 7, 2017

No plays come to mind when thinking about Native Hawaiians. So, No More Sad Things is already unusual in featuring a young Hawaiian speaking in the patois of the islands. Lance Valdez does a great job of embodying Kahekili, the surfing, carefree young Hawaiian. He is not always easy to understand, but always engaging.

Kahekili meets a 32-year-old tourist American, Jessiee (Kiki Abba), after they both have dreams of import pointing toward each other. Jessiee has so much difficulty in her life that she decides she must escape the Midwest and goes to Maui. She’s determined to try to keep the Sad Things out of her head and ends up on a quiet beach with only Kahekili, the sand, and the surf, and things take their course.

Only after spending several days together does Jessiee finally asks how old Kahekili is. She’s shocked to find out he’s only 15. So are we. Valdez doesn’t look anything like 15, of course, though 15 year olds do look more grown than we think, often.

The rest of the play deals with her dilemma in falling for an under-age boy, even as they talk of marriage and explore a real connection. As they interact, Jessiee reflects back to her boyfriend when she and he were both 15, and the unresolved nature of that relationship informs the current one. But it’s awkward. Very awkward.

It’s hard to know if the playwright wants us to reflect on the age of consent. Is this a play about pedophilia? Most of us think of a pedophiliac as someone who deliberately is attracted to under-age-of-consent people and lures or exploits them. Jung’s postulation supposes an accidental interaction. Jessiee is attracted to one particular person and only belatedly realizes an age issue.

If that is not particularly the aim of the piece, then making him 17, instead, might cure some of the creep factor. But a huge portion of the play hinges on the relationship of the two past 15 year olds, helped out by Narrator/Ukelele Player/Hostess/15 Year Old Boyfriend From the Past Nabilah Ahmed who provides context for the unresolved and complicated love of the past. Maybe Jung got stuck on the age echo and had to make that stick to write this piece.

This trio is lovely to watch and Wesley Fruge’s direction keeps the island-time rhythm front and center. The flavor is bitter-sweet and Abba uses her talent for humorous delivery and a face that expresses inexpressible longing to great effect.

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