Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Singular They by Aliza Goldstein


Lily Nicksay - Photos:  Anne McGrath

By Joe Straw

Sometimes when I exit the theatre, I want to stop the first person I see and say “You must see this show!”

But, along theatre row on Santa Monica Boulevard, everyone is so busy with their lives, in globular fashion, smoking cigarettes and connecting. 

Wanting to break in past this odorous nauseating waft in the night air, through the circular odoriferous private human gathering, it’s almost impossible to connect to share the exciting news.  

The sidewalk, on theatre row, is possibly is not the right forum. - Narrator

In Aliza Goldstein’s play A Singular They, everyone connects deeply; no matter how uncomfortable the subject may be, they connect.   This wonderful new play explores the intimate details of teenage anathemas. It is, at times, deeply introspective.  It is also enlightening, provocative, and opens up the mysterious personal life of the teenage mind.  

The Blank Theatre presents the world premiere of A Singular They (a gender-neutral singular personal pronoun) by Aliza Goldstein and directed by Christopher J. Raymond. Produced by Sarah Allyn Bauer, Daniel Henning, and Noah Wyle through May 1st, 2016.

The play opens as Dierdre (Hannah Prichard) sits on top of a desk, looking like an SNL sketch character.  More than slightly pregnant; she works on an assignment after school while her teacher, Mr. Mazer (Nick Ballard), grades papers.  

Burbank (Lily Nicksay) 17, saunters into the room, and shows her new haircut.

“You look like a lesbian.”- Dierdre

This is not really a cruel dig; they have been friends for a long time. Still, the remark hits home for Burbank.   

Unbeknownst to Burbank, she is about as normal as one can be, but she is still fighting through some things as all teenagers do.  Okay, well maybe a few more things, as she takes a seat on the table, looking more than slightly ambiguous.    

Nick Ballard

Mr. Mazer, polite to obsequiousness, wants them to finish and leave.

“Do I really look like a lesbian?” – Burbank

Later, at the mall, Burbank and Dierdre are having a typical teenage conversation. Burbank recounts the story of her birth, coming out of the delivery room where it was determined that “they” was neither a boy or a girl.  And at this time in they life, Burbank refuses to take the drugs that will change they to one-way or the other.

A flat chested boyish Burbank stares at the state of Dierdre’s fully developed and swollen breasts.  It is a moment of inquisitiveness about the late of stages of pregnancy.

Oddly enough, that’s when curiosity gets the best of Dierdre.

“What have you got down there?” – Dierdre

The best way that Burbank can describe it is to draw it, so Dierdre hands over a paper napkins and Burbank meticulously delineates the particulars in question.   Curiosity settled, they move onto other things.

And moments later, their attention is diverted to Mr. Mazer who is strolling around in the mall with a friend, possibly boyfriend. They hide so they are not seen.

Burbank addresses the fourth wall about wanting a relationship, and most importantly human contact, masturbation is not cutting it for her. And in her ineffable expressions all that she can come up with about masturbation is “It’s weird…revolting”. 

Alone, in a high school classroom, Burbank obliquely prowls the handsome Mr. Mazer and solicits information about his personal life.  Is he going on his skiing trip with his girlfriend? Boyfriend? Slightly bewildered Mr. Mazer feels the questions are a little too intrusive.

“Stop it.” – Mr. Mazer

Mr. Mazer is the teacher in this relationship.  Still, however solemn, there is movement, a tremulous glow.  

“Can you call me ‘they’?” – Burbank

For Burbank, the predicament, the exigencies of the moment, and the elevating hormones get out of hand. Later Dierdre, passing a joint between them, says that she has hooked up “they” with Tommy (Will you let me?) Poletti (not seen).  Dierdre hands the licentious Burbank a condom. Burbank can’t get pregnant, but still there are STD’s and especially chlamydia. 

What are friends for?

Lily Nicksay

Burbank’s insalubrity encounter with Tommy Poletti turns out to be a disaster and so Burbank, in a confession, sets her sights on someone else.

The fascinating thing about Aliza Goldstein’s play is that it presents us with situations that until recently were not undertaken in a public forum – teen pregnancy, masturbation, gender identity, bisexuality, sexual fantasies, and statutory rape.

And, there is also an inherent uneasiness throughout the play that, at any given moment, these situations can get completely out of control.  One is left on a precipice, anomalous feelings, of waiting for a particular character to turn, or for someone to intrude at an inopportune moment.  The feelings are both exciting, and nerve racking.  Ultimately, this makes for a wonderful intimate night of theatre, and a reason for running to see this production.

Nick Ballard is fantastic as Mr. Mazer. Ballard is perhaps a little understated for the character.  Mazer is a character that has the most to lose by revealing the tremendous emotional conflict from within, and more so playing upon his fantasies.  That aside, there were some incredible moments in Ballard’s performance where the words rang a simple solid truth and that wins him a lot of bonus points. But, is there more to be had in the opening scene, a hint, or a stronger objective to carry him onward?

One of the fascinating things about Lily Nicksay’s performance as Burbank is her ability to stay grounded in the moment. Nicksay’s concentration is superb. Dare I say it, she has an indefinable quality, the craft is hers, and her work is persevering. She is also a stunning creature.  This is a performance not to miss.   

Hannah Prichard

Hannah Prichard does some solid work as Dierdre.  This character goes off at times, possibly because of her raging hormones, and it is not really clear if she has destroyed her relationship with her best friend. Dierdre seems nonplus about giving her baby away and one wonders if there could have been other choices to add to the performance? The reaction to the information she receives, near the end, is a complete surprise.  Overall, Prichard’s performance hits the mark and she is charming in her resolve.  

The alternates are Montana Roesch (Dierdre), Erin Sullivan (Burbank) and Andy Wagner (Mr. Mazer), who did not perform the night I was there.

Christopher J. Raymond, the director, effectively uses The Blank Theatre’s black box space. His work with the actors gives us perhaps, a little more than we bargain for.  There is a rigorous simplicity to his effort where the moments are clearly defined and are mesmerizing.  Raymond presents us with a pleasing canvas of a young person throwing metaphorical paint and at the same time battling her demons.  

Kudos to Daniel Henning, Artistic Director, who is navigating his way in this the 25th season of The Blank Theatre!

Other members of this fine institution and crewmembers are:

Noah Wyle – Artistic Producer
Sarah Allyn Bauer – Producer
Heather Provost – Producing Director
Nic Dressel – Stage Manager
Aaron Lyons – Set Designer
Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
Allison Dillard – Costume Designer
Rebecca Kessin – Sound Designer – And I have to make mention the sound added another element to this production.  It was unexpected and superb.
Michael O-Hara – Properties Master
Victoria Esquer – Associate Producer
Jennifer Kim – Associate Producer
Isabel Smith – Associate Producer
Ken Werther Publicity – Public Relations
Katherine Hunter-Blyden – Marketing Director
Erica Silverman Bream – Casting Director – A great job!
Cara Chute Rosenbaum – Casting Director – Also, A great job!

Run! Run! Run! And take a gender-neutral friend.  You’ll have a lot to talk about on your ride home.

Or: 323-661-9821

2nd Stage Theatre
6500 Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood, CA  90038

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