Falls Church High School
The year is 1974. America is still high on an overdose of 1960's drugs, shaken and bleeding from the Vietnam War, and in shock after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A fresh sexual revolution is liberating homosexuals, while old Marilyn Monroe-type sex symbols are broken remnants of a fading era. Hippie culture is fracturing into violence after a decade-long march for peace and rights. In The New School of Northern Virginia's production of Kennedy's Children by Robert Patrick, the world is changing too fast for anyone to keep up.
Kennedy's Children is a presentation of monologues revealing the inner thoughts of Wanda, Sparger, Mark, Rona, and Carla-- five lost souls washed up in a bar. As the silent bartender refills their glasses time and time again, the five reflect back on their lives in the 1960's: their wins and their losses, their hopes, and their broken dreams.
The highlight of the play was seeing every actor bring a distinct character to the stage, which proved vital in such an intimate play. Ethan Ocasio as Sparger, a struggling gay actor, drove the show's energy. He delivered his monologues with passion and articulation that kept the audience clinging to his every word, whether comedic, tragic, or gruesome. Ocasio built a world around him that made him appear to be carrying on genuine conversations, even though he was addressing figments of the character's imagination. Annie Kraemer as Carla, a failed actress aspiring to be the next Marilyn Monroe, fed off his energy and employed it as a base for her own emotional soliloquies. She illustrated her disillusioned reflections of sexual encounters and show business with an airy voice quality that hinted at Marilyn's mannerisms and eloquently crafted her physical movements to correlate to the faded grace of an older, sadder woman. The rest of the cast indulged their charisma and flair to build their own exceptional performances.
The set was simple yet stunning, using the intimate stage space to recreate a 1970's bar. All the posters were time accurate, the walls and floors were painted wood, and it perfectly set the tone of the show. Lighting was also effective, drawing attention to specific moments and characters by focusing on actors during their monologues while darkening the rest of the stage. For such a small theater, the tech built a creative, innovative, and nearly professional world.
Kennedy's Children is an exceptionally mature play for a high school, but The New School of Northern Virginia conquered it with pensive flair. It was deep and poignant, and although set in a bygone era, it resonated with the youthful audience on a way that made them contemplate the trials and purpose of existence. It was a dark but rare gem in the world of high school theater.
Falls Church High School
The setting is New York, 1974. It's a rainy Valentine's day eve, and six individuals sit alone inside a cheap bar, dwelling upon the lives they lived in the past decade. Each story unfurls the past until it becomes the present, and the 60's, that rioting, war-infested glamour era, takes a painful breath and lives again. This is the story The New School's production of Kennedy's Children tells.
Lights open onto a simple yet intricate set. Painstakingly painted wood grain patterns on its floor and walls of the seedy bar not only demonstrates the finesse of the tech department (Isabella Chevez, Gary Gao, Maia Samuelian, and Harry Sheikerz), but brings a stark realism to the play.
Then our characters enter, sitting apart from each other, their solitude of mind materializing into the physical setting. They begin to tell their respective tales as a silent bartender (Joe Neff) serves them drinks. Wanda (Emily Ocasio) opens the play by revealing she is fanatically devoted to the Kennedys a decade after the infamous assassination. It is her story of the death of John F. Kennedy that creates the backdrop from which the other characters draw.
Sparger (Ethan Ocasio), a gay actor, follows suit. He begins by creating the clever facade of a bored artist that deteriorates into a painful earnestness as he reveals the trauma of losing a found family of artists to a violent suicide. Ocasio is a dynamic presence on stage and arguably the strongest of the detached ensemble. Each brash quip he makes, each eccentric jerk and motion forms a character that is as tragic as he is comical.
Rona (Mary Beth Doebel), a former hippy, tells her story next. It is a story of a revolution in the age of drugs and music, and the terrors of police brutality. As she recounts the unraveling of the protest era, Doebel allows the character's emotions to escalate until she bursts into tears. The overwhelming desperation of the moment is one of the most genuine and moving moments of the show.
Mark (Theodore Testa), Vietnam war veteran, enters next. He reads diary entries from his time in the war that reveal the deteriorating, paranoid mind of a man under the constant brutality of war. Testa's intense and devoted character building is impressive; even when not speaking, he can be seen engrossed in his entries, anxiously tapping his feet as he is overflows with nervous energy. The entries end with his revelation that he killed a friend and mentor under the delusion that he was a Viet Cong infiltrator, a haunting yet anti-climactic ending.
Carla (Annie Kraemer), a failed starlet turned go-go dancer, sat the most centrally of the characters. With her faux Marilyn Monroe dress and breathy voice, she embodies the used and discarded dime-a-dozen woman, an anachronism in present time. Kraemer is the most successful of the group in portrayal of a physical deterioration as well as a mental one. Her vomiting, smeared lipstick and ruffled hair and unsteady speech makes her the most convincing drunk in the bar, something that is heightened when she reveals that she is overdosing on sleeping pills as she tells her story.
These alternating monologues finish, leaving only a haunted audience and morose silence in their wake. Yet these stories are undeniably human in their loss--the loss of loved ones, of heroes, of sanity. It is their humanity that makes us fall in love with them, and The New School's production tells this story as humanly as possible. That is all that can be asked.