Smart, snappy and almost hyper-realistic world premiere
|A Red OrKids Youth Project presents|
|The Haven Place|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Outside of young adult literature, it’s still challenging to find portrayals of smart, thoughtful teenage girls in pop culture. Most teen girl characters in films, television shows and plays fall into two categories: depressed misanthrope who’s battling drug addiction or suicidal ideation, or bubbleheaded screecher who won’t shut up about boys. Even Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” book and film trilogy had to deal with a love triangle on top of saving the world from a white-haired despot. For these reasons, The Haven Place is not only intelligent and suspenseful, but also utterly refreshing. Part Black Mirror, part Stranger Things, A Red Orchid Theatre’s world premiere features teenage girls with rich inner lives and major obstacles to overcome: mainly, a society that wants them quiet and sacrificial. And, to paraphrase Twisted Sister, they’re not gonna take it anymore.
In the not too distant future, the United States is a thing of the past. Now divided into colonies with very strict hierarchies, “home” doesn’t exist anymore for most. Except one location remains untouched: the Haven Place, a pocket of land in what used to be northern Canada. Seven young women are on a quest across former states growing more barren by the day, driving a 1988 Winnebago motorhome, foraging for supplies and looking out for one another. Their rules are simple: protect yourselves and each other, and always tell the truth. But when they find a teenage boy who calls himself Teddy Ruxpin (Sam Blin) shivering in the rain, everything slowly begins to change. (Though not in the way you’d think.)
Playwright Levi Holloway is also an actor and teaching artist, as well as co-founder of a youth theater company with deaf and hearing actors. The Haven Place features a deaf character (Oz, wonderfully played by Julissa Contreras), who’s even more of an outcast than the rest, as sign language is now against the law. Rebels to the end, the other girls sign to her and each other, and eventually newcomer Teddy does too. Holloway writes his female characters with respect, infusing them with authority, confidence and strength. They argue, as anyone who’s stuck together in a vehicle long enough is wont to do, but their squabbles reflect the high stakes of a treacherous journey: what happens when there isn’t enough food, should kid sister Bug (Ada Grey) be allowed to drive through inclement weather, and should they trust an eighth passenger when oracle Hazel’s (Haley Bolithon) prophecy clearly mentions only seven? Fast-paced and moving, The Haven Place is a chilling reflection of our current, highly uncertain political climate and a nostalgic throwback to 1980’s kid-adventure flicks, where youth possess real power and agency. Director Steven Wilson guides the actors with aplomb and fierceness, and keeps the transitions quick, smooth and almost magical.
Recent Northwestern graduate Sarah Cartwright, who recently gave a powerful performance in The House Theatre’s A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch, shines as leader Jess, a former foster kid who runs a tight ship and deals out tough love. Other ensemble standouts include the aforementioned Contreras, Aria Szalai-Raymond and Nicole Rudokov as sharp-eyed and quick-witted twins Beadie and Crow, and Bolithon, whose intelligent yet tortured Hazel serves as the piece’s emotional center. As a whole, piece’s ensemble is a believable ragtag gang of misfits, who in the midst of a totalitarian society decide to create their own.
The Haven Place is technically a youth project of A Red Orchid, but unlike many plays aimed at kids and teens, the production never panders. Young people can watch this play and see the heroes in themselves, adults can be inspired to take a closer look at the teens in their lives and the very dark realities they may face in the future of this country. Smart, snappy and almost hyper-realistic, The Haven Place is a road trip adventure with edge-of-your-seat action, fully-realized characters and a sense of hope that the next generation is going to make it after all.
The Haven Place continues through December 30th at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm (additional performances Dec 26-28 at 8pm). Tickets are $25 (17 and under: $15) , and are available by phone (312- 943-8722) or through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at ARedOrchidTheatre.org. (Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
behind the scenes
Steven Wilson (director), John Wilson (technical direction, set design), Kotryna Hilko (costume design, prop design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design, original music), Heather Sparling (lighting design), Leean Kim Torske (asst. director, dramaturg), Olivia Bedard (stage manager), Shannon Golden (production manager), Jamie Crothers (assistant stage manager), Whitney Love, Isaac Riddle, Rob Russo, Kristin Schmitz (ASL Interpreters), Michael Brosilow (photos)