March 5, 2013

Losing My Religion (But Not My Virginity)

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Fourteen-year-old Laney Waters (Molly Stoller) is a self-declared lesbian. She is also a writer, a dreamer and a “humpback,” as her best friend, Maribel Purdy (Ally Poole), calls her. Her mom Elise (Erin Jerozal) is her daughter’s rationalist counterpart, fearful for her adolescent and fledgling motivations.

The second installment in the Kitchen Theatre’s 2013 run of Crooked is led by a three-woman cast that embarks on discomforting yet bold journeys, beginning with a monologue from a seemingly overconfident and outspoken Laney. She reads one of her latest short stories to Elise, her practical mother, who sits on the couch, concerned by the level of graphic detail in her writing. Laney places great pride in her works but her mother suggests that she should replace the violent stream of thoughts with more pleasant imagery, tossing aside her daughter’s creative outlet with joking remarks. Her mother’s hurtful comments, which seem more forced than voluntary, awaken Laney’s insecurities over the physical disorder she carries, dystonia, which contorts the body into abnormal positions. In Laney’s case, dystonia causes shoulder spasms.

At school, she meets Maribel, a fellow outcast who believes that Jesus can cast away all of the humiliations that Laney will face and redeem her from a life of sin. Maribel’s honesty comes through in her naïve view on sex. This provides a context for which the two girls can explore these sensitive issues even further within the secure zone they create for themselves. Eager for “new experiences to help her writing,” Laney acquiesces to being converted into Maribel’s religion. Soon, she misjudges Maribel’s fervor for Jesus as a romantic longing for Laney herself — and as quick as she is to judge, she is just as fast to declare herself a lesbian.

When the three women are together, repressed pasts are revealed as the characters are collectively unmasked. Maribel, who uses religion to disguise her own sexual inhibitions, clearly is more keen to learn about what sex than the healing power of Jesus. At one point, she declares, “I’m going to be a celibate. And since I’m never going to have sex, I want to hear all about it.”  Without hesitation — and against the will of her embarassed daughter — Laney’s mother proceeds to aid in Maribel’s quest for answers, though this response says much more about her personal experiences than about sex itself: “Sex is most meaningful 10 years later in your relationship when you can accept the body you’re in and your partner can too. And then you’re just thankful that he’s just next to you – that’s when it feels great.”

All of the characters carry the responsibility of portraying a multitude of sides that conflict with many of their actions and words. The static set, which includes only a couch and a table, provides an incentive for the actors to accentuate their many personas. Jerozel and Poole skillfully bend their words and bodily movements.

Stoller has the harder task of doing this whilst carrying a hump. While she never fails to physically remind us that her hump is a distraction in her daily life, her overtly energetic movements across the stage are more reminiscent of a precocious five-year-old than an inspired 15-year-old. Unlike the other two actresses, Stroller rarely distinguishes her character’s profound sentiments with her somewhat abrasive personality. Like an unpeeled onion, we are left with the surface exterior of Laney, who exposes only her jejune passions and never brings the chilling satisfaction of convincing us that she is an actual damaged teenager than a character in a play.

Rachel Lampert, artistic director at Kitchen Theatre, described the play as an “eavesdrop on conversations not meant to be public.” The play does not adorn its language with flowery words. Instead, it presents conversations you would hear while sitting on the toilet of the girl’s bathroom in high school — scandalous, harsh and ultimately charming.

Crooked will be shown at the Kitchen Theatre through March 17.

Original Author: Teresa Kim