nytheatre.com review by Jason Jacobs
August 12, 2006
Here. This. Now. is adapted from stories written by New York City teens that first appeared in two magazines published by Youth Communications, the show’s producer. These stories were selected from the 25-year history of that organization, which guides youth through the process of writing, editing, and publishing journalistic accounts of their experiences.
Adapted with sensitivity and skill by theatre professionals Sharahn LaRue McClung and Tamilla Woodard (who also provides keen direction), and performed by a committed, energetic ensemble of three professional actors and a live DJ, the nearly 20 stories take the audience on a vivid roller-coaster ride of growing up, surviving, and overcoming adversity in the city. Challenged by poverty, gangs, drugs, guns, and unsupportive or absent parents, the monologues and vignettes reveal self-discovery and triumph—these young writers have gone on to college and have become lawyers, PhDs, editors, and educators.
The teenage voices are represented here with empathy by the three strong actors. Charles Everett brings warmth and verve to all of his portrayals. Opening the show with Hashim Warren’s tour of Harlem and a consideration of its historical importance, Everett is a welcoming guide and who provides humor and ease through much of the piece. Shayna Padovano seems less at ease embodying the street world with hip-hop gestures, or in giving voice to a young Chinese girl describing her first experiences in America. But in relaying the experience of date rape and its devastating aftermath, Padovano channels an honest simplicity that provides one of the show’s most powerful moments. Francisco Solorzano offers a wide-range of portrayals—he cracks us up with Mark Stumer’s tale of a white boy learning to dance and charms us as a young man awakening to his homosexuality in the inner city. Throughout this all, DJ Tabu (aka Tasha Guevara) is present upstage center, spinning music and speaking on mic to create the soundscape of this world with sass and wit.
Woodard and McClung have spun these stories into a highly-polished, entertaining piece that moves forward with a brisk pace, slowing down to let us experience a few select moments of emotional difficulty, but quickly moving forward before discouragement or angst sets in. While the show talks about guns, drug-dealing, peer pressure, and the violence that these youth face, there is a clear intention to keep the tone positive. In the process of streamlining the stories, some of the rawness and vulnerability have been lost in translation. This is evidenced by Hattie Rice’s account of growing up in rat-infested foster homes and her unfailing determination to go to college. Published in the most recent edition of New Youth Communications (which audience members receive), the written version of the story is both humorous and harrowing. Rice’s written voice is blunt, worldly, but unshakably hopeful. The pared-down stage version is played mostly for its humor by Everett and sacrifices most of the unsavory details that make reading about Rice’s victory so powerful. (She’s now a freshman at SUNY-Binghamton.) Nevertheless, Here. This. Now. succeeds as an uplifting piece of documentary theatre. The show introduces us to some real heroes of our city—and to the visionary not-for-profit organization that has helped empower them.