ASK QUESTIONS LATERby Meggie Spalding
Rite of Passage Theatre Company
Festival of Independent Theatres
Directed by Kelsey Ervi
Choreographed by Anastasia Munoz
Sound Design by Kelsey Ervi and Clay Wheeler
Stage Manager by Carissa Jade Olsen
Audio Production by Robert McCollum and Kristin McCollum
Ian Ferguson – Kendall Logan
Porcia Bartholomae – Haley Winninger
Dante Flores – Isaac Cervantes
Kristin McCollum’s Voice – TV Anchor
Robert McCollum’s Voice – Isaac’s Dad
Reviewed Performance: 6/9/2013
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Part of Rite of Passage’s mission statement is a “dedicat(ion) to the cultivation and realization of . . . thought-provoking works . . .” They could not have landed more squarely in the middle of thought-provoking if they tried. Ask Questions Later is a significant piece, and by the play’s conclusion, asking questions - not later but now - is exactly what each audience member should be doing.
I don’t know why I am continuously surprised at how stunningly, in the hands of a good “storyteller”, art imitates life. This play’s title is pervasive in today’s headlines, including the IRS’, “Accuse First, and Ask Questions Later” scandal. The common phrase, heard in many an old cop show, is “Shoot first and ask questions later”. How sadly appropriate in regards to the ghastly numbers of random shootings across our country these days.
Three people – two high school students and a literature teacher – are placed in a triangle of coming of age, scandal and extreme violence. Naiveté, manipulation and subjugation form another deadly triangle.
The opening scene is in reverse chronological order, leaving the audience with a possible assumption that lingers throughout the entire play. Isaac is a brilliant young man, uneasy with himself as much as with his school, who ditches his classes in favor of playing violent video games. His next door neighbor, Haley, uses her cooking to become his friend when she hadn’t been that interested before.
Enter Mr. Logan, their literature teacher, whose marriage is on the skids and whose interest in both his students goes in two decidedly different directions. Haley uses both her sudden fascination with video violence and her feminine sexuality to her advantage, ending in mistaken identity, misplaced trust and a young man’s plea for understanding.
The set design was thankfully simplistic, using one or two removable or rolling pieces to represent school “lounge”, living room or bedrooms.
The lighting remained neutral, with only a few blackouts and fades for scene changes.
Properties were also minimal and made significant by their usage, with plastic containers and paper plates for the meals Haley brings Isaac, remote control for television, handheld devices for video gaming. The two scenes with a huge assault weapon made my heart pound, my stomach ache and my skin crawl, but I looked at them as objectively as I could, allowing them to have power over me as much as they should within the context of the play.
As the play develops, there are two sequences in which Haley dances the same steps twice. First time, completely alone, she moves around the entire stage in classical and modern dance, next with simple ballroom steps, hands held up as though coupled with a partner, and finally gyrating like a stripper at a bar. The second time, same steps, she dances alone, with her teacher and then for Isaac.
Haley’s dancing was intelligently choreographed by Anastasia Munoz and said more about the young woman’s own coming of age than any dialogue ever could.
Playing teacher Kendall Logan, Ian Ferguson looked every bit the part of a man in turmoil and conflict. A bit pudgy and disheveled, he represented all those teachers who are reduced to just getting through the day, let alone teach anything of worth to students who have socially and mentally moved beyond their reach. His monologues directed toward but not to the audience were all encompassing in Ferguson’s characterization of this weak man who chose the outcome of a horrendous tragedy to explain his life’s shortcomings. As written, he both awakened and repelled me, the apparent intention of the playwright, director and actor.
Porcia Bartholomae was a wickedly conniving Haley Winninger, supposed friend to Isaac. Her sweet-natured characterization held many secrets, all in her facial expressions, glances and body movement. Though young in age, Bartholomae held her own in the more demanding scenes and dances, boldly revealing Haley physically and emotionally, and I applaud her acting maturity.
I was most appreciative of Dante Flores’ acting ability, his matter-of-fact ease in portraying the confused nature of the young Isaac, and his maturity in delving into difficult to play territory. I found myself listening to Flores’ every word as the character of Isaac held the key to understanding the current nature of today’s youth, and his words scared me – “It’s easier than you think (to make a bomb)”, “I stopped learning at school – it’s all online now”. With lines like that, Columbine, Oklahoma City, 9/11 and Boston come flooding to mind.
Ervi guided her three actors with a firm hand and solid intent. Each subject was pointedly dissected and observed. Nothing was held back and yet Ervi also knew to what extent her actors could handle the work so that there were no awkward moments of indecision or inability. I appreciated the candor of her direction and the message of the piece was convincingly presented.
At the end of the play is a line about “the level of responsibility”.
Within that phrase encompasses many things, and the audience is left to ask about responsibility, about acceptance, about understanding or even realization.
Ask Questions Later is a powerful work that attempts to answer a few of those questions but leaves so much more unsolved. The theatre company’s name, Rite of Passage, also leaves me to wonder about the passages we are sending our youthful generations down, and to what end.
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ASK QUESTIONS LATER
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