Almost 13 is a highly thoughtful and at times disturbing portrayal of the childhood experiences of a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York. The solo performance from Joan Kane is powerful and at times deeply affecting as she takes us on a journey with the lead character Sis, her brother, the local gang leader, a local boy called Juan and the ladies on the stoop. This cast of ten colourful Brooklynites are well delineated, with each having a defined character and traits which support the audience in differentiating the performances.
The cracks are what let the light through
A strong central narrative helps Kane to draw out a stong sense of place, bringing alive Brooklyn and its characters. She never flinches though, from showing us the pain and the anguish caused by the actions of some characters, and the piece becomes hard to watch at times as the themes of abuse and murder are dramatically played out in front of us. A rape scene and a murder are both thoughtfully portrayed, but lose nothing of their horror, acted out in front of our eyes.
Joan’s performance suggests this is her story, but whether she is telling a personal tale or using a fictionalised account, the impact is the same either way. You are thrust viscerally into her shoes and cannot help but wonder how it must have been to live through the events in the play.
Whilst the narrative is strong, it did seem to move confusingly through time, with elements of flashback sometimes not obviously signposted. It felt as though you did not know if certain scenes fitted before or after the main narrative. At the conclusion of the play it also felt as though some really hard and complex issues were a little too neatly wrapped up. A long and complex process of rehabilitation and therapy was almost cast aside in favour of an analogy involving Japanese pottery. That said, a key line “the cracks are what let the light through” does stay vividly in the memory and acts as a fitting summary of the show.