Once there was a couple that so loved peace and justice that they would blow up buildings and kill people on its behalf. After that, they would move to another town, changing their identities and those of their children, so they could love peace and justice some more. And again, until eventually they got caught.
This is not their story, though. Instead, it’s the story of their three daughters. Here’s what their parent’s dedication to peace and justice cost them: any possibility of a childhood friend, since they could never stay in the same place too long; any chance to develop their own uniquenesses, since they could not be conspicuous; academic continuity, since when they transfer from school to school they do so with a background of manufactured false records, since to do otherwise would leave a paper trail for the Feds to follow; even their names, since they must assume a different identity at each location. They know each other only by their birth order: (1), (2) and (3).
Lila Rose Kaplan’s fine story starts with the parents’ brutal and violent capture, and life for the children goes down from there. They are torn asunder from each other, since no foster home will have all three. They are on TV a lot, and not to their advantage.
They react differently, of course. (1) (Kazi Jones), seventeen, makes it her mission to keep the family together, and the Cause which drove their parents to such extraordinary measures alive in their hearts. (3) (Amber James), who appears to be about twelve, turns her gruesome celebrity inside out, filching her foster brother’s camera to make ersatz news clips about her life and that of her family. She is still young enough, though, to ask (1) to read The Velveteen Rabbit to her, again and again.
1 2 3 a play about abandonment and ballroom dancing
closes July 29, 2018
Details and tickets
But it is the dilemma of 15-year-old (2) (Grace Eda Baker) which provides the engine to this story. Distraught and furious with her parents, (2), is sharing breakfast with her sisters (which (1) has gone to great pains to arrange).She is captivated by Luke (Jonathan M. Rizzardi), their gawky, nerdy waiter, who aspires to follow his father into the world of competitive ballroom dancing. (1) decides to engage Luke as a dance instructor for her sister, hoping to lure her out of the claustrophobic confines of her foster parent’s basement, where she spends most of her time.
(2) has no interest in leaving the basement and not much interest in ballroom dancing. But what she does have is a ferocious sexual appetite, and no inhibitions about expressing it. Luke, a classic good boy with an overdeveloped appreciation for his mama, puts up a token resistance. Soon they are romantic partners and partners in the ballroom dancing competition. The experience so infuses (2) that she is promoted to a letter: T. (She even briefly has a name, Tulip, but that fades after the first competition).
If you think this is a conventional story about how love and ballroom dancing healed a childhood full of trauma, though, think again. Kaplan’s too good a writer to settle for pabulum. T’s taste for the dance competition, and for Luke, help her reenter the world. But is her thirst for ballroom acclaim much different than her parents’ search for peace and justice?
The story follows the three children as they grow up, enter adulthood, find jobs and discover their real selves. (1) becomes an academic. (3) enters the world of television, staffing a show on which kids learn to dance. And T? Well, she and Luke keep on dancin’.
The first two-thirds of this production is absolutely marvelous, assisted by first-rate performances from all four actors. Because we move forward in time incrementally, the actors must show subtle gradations in the age of their characters. This affects Baker and especially James the most, as younger kids age at a faster pace than older ones do. They are spot-on; you can see the seeds of the 12-year-old (3), for example, when you see her at 15, and as a result she is linearly connected to the 12-year-old and the 15-year-old when she appears as an adult.
Kaplan draws complex, layered characters and thus places a significant burden on her actors to make them come to life. All four do, beautifully. Jones wears (1)’s responsibility like a corset, but you can see the anger and frustration seething within. Rizzardi’s Luke is a fabulous blizzard of lust, fear, competitiveness and sweetness. (3)’s joyous mischievousness masks a deep sorrow, and James lets us see that sorrow, as she should, in glimpses.
And Baker is astonishing. T is fierce, full of rage, a predator who can never eat her fill. And yet she is heartbreaking, too. She does a first-rate job of balancing all of T’s contradictory natures. As a dancer, Baker is adequate; as an emotional acrobat, she is magnificent.
Kudos to director Lauren Patton for getting such work out of her actors.
I am sorry to report, though, that about two-thirds of the way through the play loses some energy. This is in part because, having the highest stakes imaginable in the first part of the play (a story of children torn apart from each other is especially unnerving today), the stakes necessarily lower as the four characters move into the quotidian problems of adulthood: jobs, romance, family. A tragedy toward the end of the play seems unearned, even manipulative.
Kaplan also inflicts the last third of the play with several short scenes. Short scenes are unwise even on a formal stage, in that the narrative — and thus the fictive dream — is interrupted frequently by stage business: lowering the lights, getting the actors off the stage, rearranging the furniture, and so on. In the Fringe, staged in the common room of a Church basement, with the actors themselves responsible for moving the props, the effect is exacerbated. The company works quickly and professionally, but it is inevitable that there would be some minor mishaps, and there were.
In fact, a common room with folding chairs may not be the best venue for this complex, subtle, intermissionless one hundred five-minute play.
Finally — though I doubt you will have the same experience — in the show I attended, a gentleman with a noisy camera clicked photos incessantly throughout the production. I assume that he was with the company and was getting stills for their website or for other publicity purposes. Having written and co-produced a play for the Fringe myself, I recognize the value in having those photos. But they are better taken in dress rehearsal. Every play aspires to take its audience members from their everyday world to the world of the play. Having somebody clicking a camera every thirty seconds doesn’t help.
Notwithstanding these problems, I’m glad I went, and I think you will be too.
1 2 3 a play about abandonment and ballroom dancing by Lila Rose Kaplan . Directed by Lauren Patton . Featuring Kazi Jones, Grace Eda Baker, Amber James and Jonathan M. Rizzardi . Lighting design by Cassandra Saulski . Scenic design by R. Scott Hengen . Sound design by Andrew Brockmeyer . Kristina Martin is the costume coordinator . Eric McMorris is the technical director . Mary Kathryn Sagastume is the choreographer . Sarah Pultz is the dramaturg . Rachel Abraham is the stage manager . Music by Dee Yan-Key, James Pants, Kevin Macleod, Sam Bikov, Kai Engel and Nick DeNapoli . Produced by Theatre Prometheus . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.