Black folded programs held together with waxen blood drops greet our hands as we enter the theater. A glowing crown made of Christmas lights hang on the edge of a pale pink antique armchair. At first glance Insurgent Sonata by Timothy J. Guillot looks like something out of a child’s imagination, a magical play place. What is revealed to us is something much darker, an idea, in the twisted inner reaches of the minds of five teenagers: What if we killed our parents?
The set is a small room that looks like a glorified fort. The backdrop is made of hanging bedsheets in a variety of patterns and colors. The room is filled with a myriad of lamps, crates filled with snack food and canned goods. Raised upstage right is the pink armchair and it’s crown, a bare lamp next to it.
We find out that this space is a fallout shelter where classical music will play at random from seemingly nowhere. The music’s role in the play is like a ghost from the past haunting the shelter while also swelling at moments of great emotion, action, and inspiration. It also creates mood and tempo for the plot. In one scene Verlander summons Giovanne (Phil Dickerson) for her “treatment”. As she orders him to remove her clothing and his own, piece by piece, a lyrical orchestral section is played as he gently kisses her and lights fade to black.
We meet our four insurgents and their leader Verlander (Leslie Vincent), a dominating force, as she sits atop the lifted throne bearing the lit crown, barking at her mind slaves. They are an awkward band of misfits preparing for their revolution. The goal of the Insurgent Sonata is to create an uprising to kill their oppressive parents and be free of them once and for all. They are ordered to reenact scenes of their abuse, having their cohorts play the parts of their parents and themselves to fuel their anger. Of course Sloan (Azree Mualem) cannot idly stand by and have innocent parents slaughtered and sparks a mutiny.
The dialogue is quick, harsh and sometimes fleeting. Today we often think vocabulary is wasted on teenagers but the use of repetition and complex structure of conversations often send emotions soaring and then diving down deep.
Many of the characters have suffered physical and mental trauma from their parents and we can see the scars they leave. There is a very poignant scene where Maestro (Steve Isaac) is telling Hesh (Kyle Encinas) a happy story from his childhood. He describes his family movie night every Friday and watching everyone fall asleep peacefully, a time before the violence began in his household. Issac strongly portrays a young man moving from calm to the storm and back to calm again. He represents the promise of ascension above injustices and forgiveness of things that are out of our hands that may have hurt us in the past.
Tim Guillot, recent winner of the Kendeda National Playwriting Competition, creates a vacuum of teenage love, lust, despair, and camaraderie. This compressed ball of teenage humanity is beautifully written and the use of classical music is haunting in the presence of young murderous minds begging the question, “Could you do it?”
Insurgent Sonata has 3 more performances at Wonderbox, 629 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.