Over The Line
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
November 6, 2009
We've had a glut of quirky teen-angst shows and movies in recent years. Some have been worthwhile projects looking to illuminate or confront, while others are callously designed to glamorize and titillate. Thankfully, Over the Line is a worthy addition to the series of investigations into the nature of today's adolescent world. This somewhat darkly comic play avoids many of the pitfalls that lie in wait for those who try to make the teenage mind accessible to an audience of varying ages. It also manages to capture some poignant moments, at times viscerally sexual or violent, without ever pandering to anyone of any age. Thus, the play has something to say to both the adult audience seeking to understand or remember and the adolescent audience looking to explore or expand.
Like so many others, this story is essentially that of a group of teenagers who are moving through their days and nights, attempting to relieve their boredom, experimenting with drugs, and alternately confronting or fleeing their fears, parents, and themselves. A fumbling attempt at sex yields an odd and humorous conversation about opting to go out and stop terrorism instead. A drug-induced haze provides the catalyst for a successful attempt to explore the nature of killing and of death. These may sound like frivolous treatments of serious topics, but the play is surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful. These scenes have a lot to say about modern society as a whole. However, though playwright P. Seth Bauer has concentrated mostly on modern problems and meanderings, there is enough grounding in the more timeless ethos of adolescence to save this play from feeling like a gratuitous foray into teenage casual sex and even more casual violence. Admittedly, during the first scene or two, the script has a bit of an after-school-special feel, but that rapidly fades as the characters react, interact, and reflect. Not that the first scenes aren't as good as the rest of the show. Bauer's careful and considered writing simply takes the time to build an atmosphere and allow the characters to breathe in this world he has created for them.
As the play progresses, the tension builds in a deceptively casual way, rising and falling in an excellent start-and-stop fashion. The script is largely linear but does not succumb to the need for a single arc or a clear beginning and ending. It asks as many questions as it answers. The comedy used is dark in places, but it is also balanced and honest. Bauer allows the humor to deepen both the characters and the story itself, rather than merely providing comic relief. The resulting characters are real, and their story is moving and engaging.
The casting is also excellent. The subtleties of a script like this could easily be mishandled or missed entirely, but each of these performers is up to the task of taking what could be archetypes (or worse, caricatures) and infusing them with real emotion and intellect. Though they haven't yet quite reached the level of a true ensemble cast, they each deliver the kind of thoughtful, deliberate performances that are essential to making these characters believable. Amanda Dillard and Darren Lipari have the darkest of the characters. Dillard is aggressive and pained and does a marvelous job of playing a character who uses control (over her body, authority, or others) to mask the fact that she fears she has none. As the eccentric of the group, Lipari intellectualizes everything for the same reason, but it never feels like he's forcing it. Anwen Darcy, as the over-achiever, manages the same task nicely and brings an emptiness to her pursuit of success that makes her character's final decisions believable. David Holmes is careful with his quiet, halting portrayal to never make his character seem dumb. Brandon Reilly is so good as the young stoner who embraces death without chasing it that it's a little scary in places. And Ivory Aquino is disturbingly effective as the awkward, lost girl who is trying desperately to avoid, or at least understand, the pain in her world. In her longing to feel loved, the terror and confusion on her face are simply gut-wrenching.
Hamilton Clancy's staging is surprisingly varied and well-defined for such a small space. While I'd love to see this show have a little more room, Clancy has done an outstanding job of separating the events and locations of this play. The stage pictures are great and make good use of Jen Varbalow's set, particularly the wooden school chairs (which are a great choice to help the setting feel a bit more timeless). The pacing shows remarkable discipline throughout much of the play, especially during the awkward or searching scenes. Some tightening up of the aggressive scenes would be helpful, providing them a bit more urgency, but overall, Clancy's direction is exactly what this play needs.
Miriam Nilofa Crowe's lighting does an excellent job of defining the space in a variety of ways. Especially effective is the lighting of the softer two-person scenes and the intimate monologues.
It is also worth noting that this is an expansion of Bauer's short play, The First Time Out of Bounds (also developed with The Drilling Company). He has been careful to craft a full-length play that feels like a complete work, rather than a series of scenes written to compliment or dovetail with the "real" work. The finished product is honest and worthwhile. The short play actually toured schools in Berlin, and while Clancy is correct that this piece is too frank to be toured in American high schools (except, perhaps, performing arts high schools), it is a shame that it can't be. It has as much to offer teenagers as it does the adults who foolishly believe they know exactly what their children are going through. If you're in the mood to be moved, entertained, and lightly challenged, make time to see this production.