Ten high school seniors find themselves in a strange room, in the middle of nowhere, lit only by a dim overhead lamp. One by one, they wake up, and between them they must work out why they’ve been put there. Poly Prep (as part of the American High School Theatre Festival) pull off this new play by Monica Flory with a real sensitivity, thanks to the hugely promising cast. If there’s one show bursting with young talent here,
A genuinely moving and thought-provoking performance.
Hope (Tara Ellwood) and Ian (David Almonte) are the first to wake up, and are soon joined by Emily (Zakiya Baptiste) and Dylan (Paolo Cenci). Tension builds as the remaining teens come round - there’s only so many hormones you can pack into one room before things kick off. They’re frightened, confused, and lash out easily.
There’s no pretence about the piece, and perhaps that’s the beauty of it - these are real young American people, given the chance to open up and discuss issues that are relevant and urgent to their generation. The premise of the play - all ten of them trapped in a box - feels a little contrived, but the strength of each compelling performance soon makes that easy to forget. Their tiny world becomes all that matters as they start to work together, combining their worldviews.
Every member of the cast should be commended for their work, but a few are particularly impressive, delivering performances polished beyond their years. Zakiya Baptiste as Emily, worried about how racism will come to affect her family shows a real skill for comic timing as well as coming through on the more emotional moments - her pain is felt across the auditorium. Similarly, Kristen Haynes as Bridget, coming to terms with her sexuality, gives a warm and earnest performance - Flory has given her, and all the other female cast, an opportunity to really shine in her writing of genuine young female characters.
Later in the piece, the group are provided with a cannister of pills from a mysterious outside source - a few of them take the risk and swallow one, triggering a series of deeply personal hallucinations for the characters. These are shown with elegance and strength through physical theatre, actors piled on actors, and while they’re impressive technically, they’re hard to follow and sometimes repetitive in appearance.
There are a lot of ‘issues’ shoehorned into this short piece, but they never feel cheap or rushed - through Flory’s strong writing, the cast achieve a genuinely moving and thought-provoking performance.