Secrets & Lies Hide in Plain Sight at The Strand
by Barry David Horwitz
Phillip Howse’s world premiere in S.F. Playhouse’s Sandbox Series tries to bring the interior world of a teen age girl threatened from all sides into the arena of drama. It’s a psychological adventure, rare on the stage and tricky to execute.
How do you get inside the mind of a confused and harassed teen-ager, using an art form designed for action and strong language? The answer: a stage set that depicts her inner turmoil, TV screens that show her Google searches, a tilted white disc of a stage, and other new special effects that reflect her conflicts and anxieties.
Howse’s play “all of what you love and none of what you hate” offers keen insights into the dream world of a young girl who has no one taking her side. Her bedroom and her mind are the circular slanted white disc where she lives. Her bed is suspended upside down from the rafters, as her life is upside down, too. She wonders and dreams. For answers to adult problems, she consults the Internet on the four giant screens facing the audience. The answers are even more confusing. But whom can she ask?
The girl is beautiful, she is African American, she is cut off from her friends, from her young mother, and from her cocky hyper-masculine boyfriend. They all take advantage of her naivete, her isolation, her beauty. The girl, touchingly played by Britney Fraser, speaks through voice-over, as in a dream, for most of the play. We feel as though we’ve been plunged into her dream world, where real conflicts find horrid and unrealistic solutions, and no one will stop and think about her.
The boyfriend, Boy, seduces her, but he’s quickly out of there, off at his job at the grocery store, or worrying about himself. He has his studly hip-hop rap and dance, switching around his cap, showing off his stuff. He doesn’t want to talk to her, and certainly doesn’t want to hear about any pregnant news.
The girl tries to get through to her friend and her mother, but they too spout their own news at her. They have no time to listen. The girlfriend is sweetly out of touch, sympathetically played by Tristan Cunningham. And her Mother is forcefully interpreted by a powerful Indiia Wilmott, who questions her own place in this harsh U.S. world.
Google is a disembodied god with multiple answers—most of them dangerous and unrealistic. Who has time to listen to a girl in this world? There’s only Google out there to answer questions about abortion, bringing up a baby, or being a teen-aged mom. She visualizes possible scenarios on her electronic imagination—we feel her pull toward having the baby.
Even more striking, figures dressed in black sweats writhe on the ground, screaming their angst and suffering—an ingenious and painful projection of her inner pain. In the dark, around her floating disc, these zombies both reflect and attack her brain. They fight with each other; they embody the “Voices” of Baby Sister, Gina Harris, and Expert. The playwright makes us think hard about how disembodied voices can influence a girl in pain.
But they never agree, they never come together in one coherent decision. They are inner conflicts determining “all of what you love.” She cannot banish them or replace them with “none of what you hate.” She is rendered powerless by these visions during her struggle for and against life.
“all of what you love and none of what you hate” must be what our Girl A is hoping that life will offer her. But life, as she knows it, cannot fulfill those expectations. Instead Mother, Girl B, and Boy can only push their own problems, living in an oppressive and poverty-stricken world. They descend into “blah blah blah,” and have no empathy. They have as little empathy as “what you hate,” spitting and writhing and complaining into the dark.
This is a lovely tone poem of a play—mapping the unconscious of a very young girl, and how she sees the world, how the world treats her. We experience a rare fusion of internal and external pressures—demonstrating abandonment and unfeeling in a contemporary electronic wasteland.
Smoothly and tightly directed by Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, we feel connected to the thoughts and feelings of the suffering Girl A, as we ride her consciousness into the present and future. It’s a tenuous and tender struggle, defining the girl by what she thinks and how she reacts to her feelings and her friends. Watch for more innovations from Phillip Howse, who is attempting to project dangerous inner turmoil in a turbulent, divided, and far from equal U.S.
“all of what you love and none of what you hate” by Phillip Howze, by S.F. Playhouse, Sandbox Series, at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco, runs through Sunday, September 25, 2016. For information: sfplayhouse.org
Director: Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe. Scenic Design: Zoe Rosenfeld. Casting Director: Monique Hafen. Lighting Design: Sophia Craven. Sound Design: James Ard. Video Design: Brian Herczog. Video Technician: Laura Lopez. Costume Design: Ellen Howes. Movement Director: Stephen Buescher. Properties Design: Maeve Morgan.
Girl A: Britney Frazier. Girl B: Tristan Cunningham. Mother: Indiia Wilmott. Boy: Cameron Matthews. Baby Sister (Voice): Lolade Celeste Tijani-Qudus. Gina Harris (Voice): Devon deGroot. Expert (Voice): Christian Ard.