When thinking of Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), we’d be forgiven for thinking of beloved children’s fables, or charming musicals with lessons to be learned. Oftentimes the messages are given to us in neat little packages tied up with heartfelt bows.
That is certainly not the case with Ever in the Glades, which reads almost more like Young Adult series, and certainly doesn’t pull its punches in regards to content. For me, it begs the questions: Why aren’t there more shows like this, aimed at this young adult demographic?
Set in a fictional island in the Everglades, the warning is that adults are just as dangerous as the gators. Mind you, the gators are extremely dangerous. But the central message of the play is that adults who misuse their power are ultimately more dangerous than even the apex predators of the swamps.
All of the adults, played with aplomb by Alex Quiñones and Amira Danan, represent various ways in which parents, and powerful figures of authority, can set narrow paths for their children. One father wishes his son, Junker G (Bryan Eng), would put down his guitar in favor of a gun. A father “slams the doors of opportunities” for his sons Z (Kori Alston) and Ames (Ryan Foreman). While there may be a part of the adult brain that wants to understand the adults, they come across as rigid and unyielding, to the point where I asked myself: Is this a reasonable portrayal of adults in my life? To a slow, creeping horror, I realized that these “so-called adults” were not that far from people I’ve met. It made sense that the teenagers wanted to leave the island; nothing awaited them there but the slow transformation into the evils that they so loathed. Pretty deep for TYA? Pretty deep for any show, I’d say.
Said teenagers, Z (Alston), Ames (Foreman), Junker G (Eng), Delia (Mariah Copeland), and Elijah (Robert Cunningham), all hold down their individual stories, flowing them seamlessly into each others’ to form the bigger picture. All of the performers are students at Northwestern (with Bryan Eng already having graced some of DC’s theatre scene). While all of the performers felt a bit green, they did their jobs ably and well, and their performances were solid across the board, yet many times they lacked the full body commitment or the deep listening required to really make the dialogue sing believably. As the stakes in the story rose, I wanted their tension to rise with it, and infuse the text with their acting, rather than rely on it to carry them through.
Speaking of text, Playwright Laura Schellhardt’s dialogue is at times, sharp and poignant, while at others, rife with cliché , and at others still, repetitive and clunky. I found myself shocked that the final lines of the play were what they were, given that there had been several other metaphors about finding one’s place in the world which would’ve worked miles better.
Each character’s voice is unique, and given good life by the cast. Schellhardt stated that she drew inspiration from youth movements of 2010’s to create her characters, citing the youth voices of Black Lives Matter, and more recently the Parkland survivors, and how those voices are a powerful movement for change. The play orbits around the theme of “The world you’re in” vs “The world of your own making”, the passivity to go with the flow, or the courage to fight it. It resonates beautifully in each of the teenagers’ desires to remain in their comfort zones, but also the push to leave them, to step out, and to find a world outside their toxic and backwards home. Even until the end, some of the teenagers continue to grapple with the idea that perhaps staying is easier; better the devil you know.
Direction from Rives Collins and Allie Woodson utilize the beautiful set and scenery to create some dynamic pictures and tableaus, and capture the swamp, its stillness and the neverending motion within it.
Costumes, by Amanda Rabito, were quite lovely, giving us many hints about the characters simply from their appearances. It especially worked wonders with the two actors who played all of the adults, which, at times, allowed them to transform entirely.
Jessica Neil’s lights were gentle, evocative, and beautiful. Working with the almost ever-present haze and fog, she created an eerie, downtrodden and secluded island, yet somehow managed to instill it with hope. It worked beautifully with the drooping tree above the raked wooden planks of set, designed by Andrew Boyce. Combine it with Stephen Ptacek’s gorgeous sound choices and the music composed by Noah LaPook, and I instantly knew the world in which I existed. And despite understanding that, set, lights, and sound in tandem managed to create a pull…a sense of longing and gazing into the distance that made me want to leave this sleepy place. The design for the show was excellent across the board.
Special shoutout to Britain Wilcock’s fight and intimacy choreography and for the important work that it is.
Ever in the Glades is a special kind of play. Both kinetic, in that it makes you want to move and change the world and confront all of the problematic adults with their ugly ideals, and static in that sometimes a line or an image just stops you in your tracks. The playwright asks “When one generation fails the next, what choice is left?”. Her play then proposes her answer: We let them sink or swim. And that parable will be resonating with me for some time yet to come.
This production ran from June 8 to 10, 2018 at The Kennedy Center.