Sunday, November 16, 2008

Guns 'N Poses

During the recent election, San Francisco voters gave their support to Proposition V, which was basically aimed at pressuring the San Francisco school board to reverse its plan to phase out the JROTC program (an essential tool for recruiting schoolchildren into the military). Although I am staunchly anti-NRA and opposed to the military mentality, programs like the JROTC do serve a purpose -- especially when one considers the plight of certain youth who have nowhere to go but up.

Thus, it was particularly interesting to see a documentary entitled Reservation Soldiers during the 33rd Annual American Indian Film Festival.  Why?  Because this film dealt with a joint effort between the Canadian military and the leaders of several Western Canadian Indian tribes to provide a future for Indian youth that can give them a sense of purpose and point them in a direction that leads somewhere other than the high levels of unemployment, alcoholism, and drug addiction which plague those who remain at home on the reservation.

The Bold Eagle Program is a six-week summer opportunity for Canada's Aboriginal youth. Conducted in the format of a military boot camp, it strives to develop self-confidence, teamwork, fitness, respect, and self-discipline in a population which, like its American counterpart, has often been noticeably lacking in those particular qualities.  Unlike many military programs which are obsessed with an iconic type of hypermasculinity, Bold Eagle participants freely hug members of the same sex, sing tribal songs, and look to the Bold Eagle program as a possible entry point to a career in Canada's military or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Whereas most military training programs are designed to strip potential troops of ego and identity so they can more effectively be molded into soldiers, the Bold Eagle program helps Aboriginal youth to celebrate and learn more about their heritage.  While functioning as a military outreach program, Bold Eagle also acts as a facilitator so that youth from Western Canada's numerous tribes can meet each other, explore their regional Aboriginal customs and traditions, and learn more about their common history and shared interests.   You can watch a fascinating recruitment video for the Bold Eagle program here by clicking on "West" and then "Video Gallery" and scrolling down to the video about Bold Eagle. 

Programs like JROTC and Bold Eagle help teach teenagers how to gain confidence and learn how to properly handle a weapon.  Unfortunately, recent years have brought too many tragic events such as the massacres at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, which remind us what can happen when a deadly weapon is placed into the wrong hands.  

The Magic Theater's new production of Evie's Waltz offers a searing look at the crisis that erupts when a confused, scared teenager becomes involved in an accidental killing and retreats into the woods with a loaded telescopic rifle pointed at his parents and girlfriend as they try to communicate with him from the back patio of his home.  It is also, for better or worse, the only hostage situation I've ever encountered which is colored by a hostage's painfully hopeful and yet unspoken question:  "Who wants pie?"

As the play begins, Clay (Darren Bridgett) and Gloria (Julia Brothers) are arguing about their teenage son -- who has been suspended from school -- and who they assume has locked himself in his upstairs bedroom.  Gloria is the cynic, who at this point, is ready to strangle her son to death and professes to have stopped caring about what he does with his future.  Clay, the eternal optimist, is always trying to defend everyone from Gloria's withering doubt.

Clay and Gloria don't really have a problem trying to communicate with each other so much as a woeful inability to listen. Each parent is highly intelligent, verbose, and knows how to aim his emotionally poisoned darts with the kind of intimate accuracy that comes from a long and not always happy marriage. They have reached the kind of brittle equilibrium best expressed in this song from Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical Company.

While Clay and Gloria have developed a grand style of intellectual jousting, they are obviously helpless when it comes to communicating with their son Danny, who is in much more trouble than they can imagine.  With the harried arrival of Danny's girlfriend, Evie (Marielle Heller), the plot quickly starts to thicken.  Gloria doesn't particularly like Evie and is quick to remind her that after all of the manipulative teenage girl's attempts to shock people (including the time she tried to pierce her lip with a staple gun), Gloria has grown totally numb to Evie's antics.  

That may soon change.  

Not only won't Evie's alcoholic mother be joining them (as originally planned) for tonight's back porch barbecue, Evie has arrived with some fresh blood on the back of her shoulder.  Nervously trying to improvise and stall for time, she slowly brings Danny's parents up to date on the current crisis.  

As a goof, Evie and Danny recently used Gloria's credit card to order a gun over the Internet. When Danny (who has constantly been bullied at school) started to get a little too enamored of the gun, Evie alerted school officials that he was carrying it in his backpack just before it set off the school's metal detector.  Danny had once jokingly drawn some maps of the school that might suggest a potential plot for a Columbine-style massacre.  The maps, which could provide extremely incriminating evidence, are still in his locker.  

As Gloria struggles to get Evie to tell her what "the plan" is, Evie keeps stonewalling, trying to explain that Danny is really a good kid and that there is no plan.  As she boasts about the purity and intensity of the love she shares with Danny (making vague references to how Romeo and Juliet died for their love) two very different world views start to collide.

Gloria, feeling like someone who has seen and heard it all, senses that in Evie's rebelliousness, she is missing the larger picture of what life is all about.  Evie, whose adolescence has magnified the importance of every moment in life, suspects that Gloria is the one who is really missing the larger picture -- especially with regard to Danny.  

The question of whose vision will prevail remains unclear because, like many rebellious kids with electronic gadgets at their disposal that their parents can barely master, Danny and Evie have meticulously set up a series of technical roadblocks which make it impossible for Danny's parents to communicate with their son.   

Then Danny fires two warning shots with frightening accuracy.

Marielle Heller and Julia Brothers (Photo by David Allen)

A taut 90-minutes of intergenerational suspense, Carter W. Lewis's play captures the frustrations of weary parents at the mercy of nervous, cocky teenagers who have the means, wits, and motivation to deny adults the critical information needed to help their children through a crisis.  Lewis, who has a keen ear for dialogue, has written some great zingers which draw nervous laughter from the audience. 

But when things turn serious he doesn't waste a lot of time on philosophizing.  Dramatic exposition is served up fast and furious, with a heavy helping of snarky recrimination.  Under Loretta Greco's terse and insightful direction, Evie's Waltz gains momentum like a freight train pulling away from the station, slowly escalating until parental levels of awareness and terror engulf Clay and Gloria with the momentum of a runaway locomotive.  

The Magic Theater's tight three-actor ensemble delivers exceptionally strong performances filled with simmering anger, deep wounds of emotional pain, and desperate flashes of optimism. Evie's Waltz is a thrilling, disturbing and highly provocative piece of theater that is well worth your time.  Just don't expect anyone to turn this piece into High School Musical: The Shootout.

Marielle Heller (Photo by David Allen)

No comments: