Thursday, April 17, 2008

From Up Here (The SOB Review)

From Up Here (The SOB Review) - New York City Center, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, NY

***1/2 (out of ****)

What is it about all too many American adolescents who give up hope before it even has had the chance to spring eternal? Could it be that it all has to do with the lower, earliest vantage points by which all children are literally challenged?

In this post-Columbine era, adults have been tragically reminded time and again of the need to refortify their efforts, remaining vigilant in looking for tell-tale signs and patterns of disturbing behavior, as well as in trying to serve as favorable role models.

If nothing else, many feel compelled to demonstrate that high school life is rarely a harbinger of things to come. That's a lot of responsibility to be sure.

Coming exactly one year after the horrific Virginia Tech Massacre and nearly 9 years to the day after Columbine, Liz Flahive's poignant, yet darkly funny From Up Here opened last evening under the snappy direction of Leigh Silverman at the Manhattan Theatre Club's space at the New York City Center.

And what an auspicious debut this budding playwright has made, particularly as Flahive instills her fully realized characters with compassion, along with a heaping healthy dose of what troubled teens need more than anything else: hope. Flahive ably underscores how hope requires elevating the teenage human spirit to a loftier place where they can see that life doesn't begin and end in the place perhaps mistakenly called "high" school.

In From Up Here, we're never quite sure what exactly high school student Kenny Barrett (Tobias Segal) actually did to warrant police involvement, let alone the close scrutiny from his school and family. But whatever he did, it has everyone pretty much on edge. And now that he's back in school, he's been assigned an interloper minder in the form of precocious class valedictorian Kate (Jenni Barber), who's going to help Kenny write a public apology he is set to deliver.

At home, he struggles to communicate with his frustrated, high-strung mother (Julie White), let alone his stepfather Daniel (Brian Hutchison), who valiantly strives to keep it and everyone all together as the moral support he's providing everyone, including sexually promiscuous stepdaughter Lauren (Aya Cash), goes unappreciated. Fortunately for Kenny, his transcendental Aunt Caroline (Arija Bareikis) descends quite literally upon the family, swooping in just enough to knock this somewhat broken family back into kilter.

In one of the year's most profoundly moving male performances, Tobias Segal deftly exhibits all the knotty tableau of emotions ranging from utter dejection to glimmers of hope his tortured soul endures. Mark my words, this is one hot young actor whose name you'll want to remember.

As last year's Tony-winning Best Actress, Julie White bypasses Broadway for her Gotham follow up with a tightly wound, measured performance laced with an appropriate blend of humor and anxiety for a mother who's at the end of her rope. She's truly brilliant. As is Hutchison in his understated performance.

In fact, all of the portrayals by this uniformly fine cast, including Will Rogers as Lauren's would-be paramour Charlie, nail the awkward coming to wits angst inherently found both among those growing up and those who must deal with fragile youth in a very honest, straightforward manner.

Special mention must be made regarding Allen Moyer's sliding set design, accentuated by Pat Collins' subtle lighting, that effectively straddles the reality of home with the more vague, less certain outside world.

What really struck a chord with me is that for all the awkwardess that most youth must go through, From Up Here gives immense direction by pointing the way out via a revelatory, resonating route that makes live theatre suddenly relevant again.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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At 17 April, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

You know, I didn't like this one as much as you did, although I did enjoy the performances. I agree that the young actors were terrific exploring the awkwardness of being teenagers.

And while I liked Julie White, I thought the plot required her to do things that were a little over the top, to react in a way that maybe wasn't totally realistic.

I guess because the play does come on the heels of such horrific acts, I felt a little cheated that I didn't know exactly what Kenny did, and I also felt a little cheated by the ending.

I just felt it would have helped me better understand the turmoil that this family is going through if I had a better idea of how serious the incident was. Because of that, the play didn't go quite as deep as I thought it would.

At 17 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I can appreciate your wanting more. But I think the key was in the Allen Moyer's ingenious set design that left everything vague outside of the rock solid foundation of Kenny's home.

At 17 April, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Wow, good point! I hadn't really thought about how the set design contributed to feel of the play, but now that you mention it, it does make sense that everything outside of home was a little vague. I'm still not as accustomed, I think, to looking for the nuances in a show that often can be very revealing. For example, when you pointed out that in "The Farnsworth Invention," we never actually see a television, that was a great point, but it just escaped me!

At 17 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Of course, whether that is actually what Allen Moyer had in mind is another question....


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