Can two people overcome racial barriers through simple love and acceptance, or are they insane for even attempting to ignore this most fundamental of societal divisions? Such is the central dilemma of Tether, an exciting new production that follows the simple, arresting tale of biracial twins growing up in 1990’s Los Angeles.
Teenage twins, Lach and Lam, grapple with boy troubles, race, and an enduring obsession with tetherball. They each have a completely different skin color, a million to one phenomenon that exposes them to a unique dichotomy of public perception and expectation. Despite their shared parentage, the twins are often labeled simply “white” or “black”. The two valiantly struggle against such racial labels and other difficulties life throws at them, relying on their deep bond of sisterhood to sustain them.
Through Jessica Lefkow’s deft direction and the actors’ diligence, the action of the play floats along smoothly on a current of remarkably naturalistic emotion and interaction. The two actresses display their deep bond so convincingly it seems they have indeed known each other for years. In a mesmerizing symbiotic ballet, they progress at warp speed through each day’s topic of conversation, deciphering each other’s thoughts and finishing each other’s sentences with a dizzying patter of teenage dialogue.
Gwen Grastorf plays Lach, the fair-skinned twin with an affinity for breakdancing and sketchy boyfriends. She employs a complex mixture of jealousy, stubbornness, and caring to create a nuanced character that defies easy description. Throughout the show she shifts subtly from rebellious antagonist to responsible confidante and role model. Among her considerable dramatic abilities, Grastorf’s greatest talent is a knack for slow-burning intensity, which rises to a boil in a fiery, scene-stealing rant during the play’s climax.
Jade Wheeler plays Lam, Lach’s more reserved and hopeful counterpart. In contrast to Lach’s attention seeking behavior, Lam mostly tries to escape notice as well as her own dark skin color. Wheeler is at her most captivating as she silently scrubs at her skin and attempts to hide from “the sun”, which represents the racial judgments imposed by society. Wheeler’s expressive, kind eyes accentuate the implicitly trusting nature of her character, a trait which makes her eventual fate all the more tragic.
Tether is a marvelously conceived and executed production. From the writing to the staging to the individual performances, everything feels organic, as if the audience were eavesdropping on a real conversation between two sisters on a playground. One reason for the naturalistic feel of the play may well be that playwright Julie Taiwo Oni, currently living in Los Angeles, is, in fact, one half of a set of biracial twins.
Oni’s work celebrates the power of love and family across cultural divides, in what amounts to a fresh, satisfying night of theater.
by Julie Taiwo Oni
Directed by Jessica Lefkow
Produced by Doorway Arts Ensemble and Arts Alive Theatre
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Running time: 1 hr; 30 minutes with 1 minute intermission
- Nelson Pressley . Washington Post