I just saw a very moving “theater double feature” in one afternoon involving sons and daughters in jeopardy. Boston Playwrights’ Theatre just opened its season with “THE TRAGIC ECSTASY OF GIRLHOOD” a new play with an unwieldy title but an ensemble of exceptional young actresses who draw us into the painful emotional centers of their damaged lives.
Danielle Palmer, Amanda Figueroa, Stephanie Castillo (foreground, clockwise from left), Tatiana Chavez (background)Photo: Kalman Zabarsky
Kira Rockwell’s play is based on experiences she had working at a Texas residential care facility for young women– and it shows. She’s armed with insight about this population and utterly believable dialogue. The show opens as five teenage girls’ lives are jolted after one of their housemates kills herself. All the action takes place on one set consisting of three walls and two beds, but we’re ushered into a world of pain. Each girl reacts with a unique set of defenses against a bruising family history. Among their separate ills are divorce, violence, alcoholism, molestation; but all of them have been abandoned and are in dire need of a home and direction.
Onstage, they get that direction from Leila Ghaemi who here supports some of the most vivid characters and honest portrayals I’ve seen so far this season. She deftly orchestrates illuminating flashbacks to the character whose fate is known at the outset, and we watch her like a hawk for clues to what triggers her. All of the bi-play rings true, and the conversations. This is how girls talk and interact, by turns raw and raucous, needy and hostile, sweet and funny, and brutally honest. There are real tears and real rage. There isn’t a false note until the very last scene which takes a corny feminist turn, but I barely minded. I was in from the get go, and didn’t want to let go– of any of them: Tatiana Chavez, Sarah Hirsch, Stephanie Castillo, Amanda Figueroa, and Danielle Palmer. Through October 21 at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre!
Then I hightailed it up to Chelsea Theatre Works to see the Praxis Stage production of Arthur Miller’s classic “ALL MY SONS”
one of my favorite plays. This is BIG theater in a very tight space. I was glued. Daniel Boudreau stars as Joe Keller (!) whose factory made airplane parts for the government during WWII. When defects turn out to be defective, Joe’s employee goes to prison and scandal shadows the family as does the disappearance of Joe’s son, an enlisted pilot missing in action for three years. His absence is a vacuum that slowly consumes the family.
The play zeros in on the moral and ethical responsibility within a family and a community. The play questions the nature of the American Dream. Joe specifically wonders about the extent of the social compact when that individual dream is threatened? These issues were reverberant in Miller’s personal life in relation to his own unacknowledged son with Down Syndrome, detailed in the world premiere play FALL.
These performances are vivid, and accessible and mostly excellent. Boudreau is a blind and blustery patriarch, whose avuncular mien masks a creeping guilt. When he finally breaks, it’s painful to watch this mountain of a man crumple. As his wife Kate, Sharon Mason has the requisite nervousness beneath the cheer, while conveying a ramrod will that girds her from the truth she knows in her bones. Also standouts are Robin Abrahams as a no nonsense, almost caustic Sue Bayliss, and Dominic Carter who hits the stage like a hurricane as another wronged son, George Deaver. But it’s Casey Preston’s winning vulnerability and wounded innocence as Joe’s remaining son Chris that really got to me. He’s clearly beholden to his parents, hates conflict, yet still stands up to them, and at rock bottom must acknowledge his own flaws when the truth becomes undeniable.
The play remains expansive and emotionally powerful in this company’s hands, and REMARKABLY relevant right now when America’s core values, identity, and legacy are at issue. At least Joe Keller, the head of the factory, finally gets it; the soulless salesman in the oval office would most likely bluster, “FAKE NEWS.” See Praxis Stage’s “ALL MY SONS” at Chelsea Theatre Works through October 27!