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A CurtainUp Philadelphia Review
A Berkeley student and raver, Hannah has recently sustained injuries from a boyfriend who ended up killing himself. Christina, her new roommate has arrived. Little is known about her except that at one point she was in a sorority. Both are blitzed from drinking whiskey before they started in on the drugs. Self-dramatizing Hannah repeatedly asks Christina to promise that she won't kill her. A sweet Christina promises she won't.
Anders, a former bf of Hannah's, shows up fresh from a three-month trip to Thailand, where his head still seems to be. He'll crash in the apartment with them. He claims he's cleaned up his act, and it looks like he may prove to be a stabilizing influence. But wait, he's managed to smuggle in ecstasy in powder form. Soon, along with the women, he's smoking or snorting anything that's lying around.
The three characters spend their time high on acid and ecstasy at Goa Dance Trance raves and parties, then return to the apartment where they continue with marijuana, crystal, and whatever else is available. The women more or less get around to their schoolwork for Berkeley. Euphoria and intimate sharing get tangled up with diatribes and sudden moments of anger, and then it's all love again. A utility knife, Hannah's protection against intruders, remains onstage throughout— like Chekhov's gun.
I've seen only two of John Rosenberg's works: The Gambling Room and Protection. The promise inherent in these two works is realized in Hannah. He's particularly adept at catching the easy, slacker profanity that's become endemic in everyday conversation, along with the motor-mouth natter of meth-fueled, manic temperaments. The prevailing "I'm like" worm has bored deeply into the fabric of the dialogue, and even the iconic "I'm like, Oh! My! God!" is uttered without irony.
With talk, a little goes a long way. No really, a long, long way. Even the characters realize it: Christina: Ohmygodyoutalkalot. . . Hannah: You've been talking for hours.
The positive thing about the tons of dialogue is that it's fresh, real, and humorous, and it achieves the rhythms of regular un-staged life. It's been worked from each character's perspective , while allowing for impaired cognitive function on all sides. Still, a bit of Zen balance would be welcome, talk and not-talk.
Laura Sukonick is Hannah, Francesca Piccioni is Christina, and Ben Grinberg is Anders. These actors are so good it would be hard to imagine anyone else in their roles. Centered and well directed, they bring energy and skill to their roles. They've internalized all that dialogue and never once appear to have memorized a thing.
Unspecified time passes between brief blackouts and in between acts. Everything rolls together and there's little sense of how much time has passed. A better understanding of the time in between encounters would be helpful for sorting things out.
The young people, the apartment setting, school stuff and drugs all remind me of This Is Our Youth (1996), the Lonergan three-actor play that ended up the vehicle for many young film actors who hoped to prove their stage chops. That story is different from Hannah, but both plays are full of inertia, compassion, anger, vulnerability, and youth-speak. And both plays favor character over plot. But Hannah is potentially the better play.
However, the attempt at a DIY three-person dance party tanks the end of the first act. Interest flags as the actors, barely discernible in the dark and immersed in their totally blitzed out characters, sort of dance, and mostly hang out for an extended period of time,. (One thing does happen, though: A truth about Hannah is disclosed.) > Then at one point Hannah says to Anders, "You must be so bored right now." He says no. I say yeah. Some in the audience are, as the end of act one falls into a black hole.
After intermission the play comes roaring back. There's a long, but key discussion about a paper on Double Indemnity. Christina feels used. Hannah believes Christina has insulted her intelligence. The plot eventually reaches a tipping point. Fissures open and the three amigos are no longer so compatible. Little betrayals, lines crossed, it's all those kinds of things you can't see, but are there, shaping lives while careless language floats on top. Anders is ready to get out. Christina is fed up with Hannah's sympathy ploys and her 'brave poor thing' thing. Hannah clings to her rave junkie persona of "Glitter Girl," a role we learn about late in the game.
Even with the unresolved issues mentioned, this is good theater. It's unusual to find something of this caliber in the deep recesses of a marginal Philadelphia neighborhood. In my years as a theater critic and member of new play award committees I've read and seen hundreds of new plays. A handful of playwrights have something to say, have got the argot, and can pull it off. Rosenberg's words cascade in a rush to get out as he traces along the fault lines of interaction, exploring the push and pull, and revealing the failings and desires that shape who people are.