High school can be a veritable minefield of abuse, confusion, and soul-crushing rejection. Factor in a parent’s untimely death, a daughter’s sexual misguidance, and a father’s inability to communicate and the combination can make for some pretty depressing play material. But also factor in six phenomenal actors and a sharp and irreverent script by Mark Schultz and the outcome is surprisingly stirring and humorous, if not unexpectedly jarring. Everything Will Be Different, currently running at Soho Rep. and produced by True Love Productions, is anything but a light night at the theatre; you’ll emerge from this play with belly aches and battle scars.
The topics that playwright Schultz touches on in Different could easily slide into the category of just plain uncomfortable: sex, proposed sexual abuse, imagined sexual abuse, sexual experimentation, and porn. Oh, and let’s not forget the teenage sex. Thankfully, Schultz and director Daniel Aukin reign in the unnerving situations and maneuver them around into vital segments in the teenage life of Charlotte (the astounding Laura Heisler), the confused daughter at the heart of the story. With her mother’s recent death still weighing heavily on her daily activities, and her father’s constant reminders that she will never be pretty like her mother was, Charlotte envelops herself in the tale of Helen of Troy, believing fiercely in “the idea that beauty and desire can destroy the world.” Employing the help of her best friend, Heather (cleverly played by Naomi Aborn), Charlotte begins to concoct her own versions of “how the story should go,” each time focusing on bringing down those who have hurt her while she herself remains beautiful and unruffled.
In the tradition of black comedy, this show revels in its absurd circumstances while simultaneously making the audience feel slightly on-edge. The conversations between Charlotte and her father, Harry (played with fantastic loathing by Christopher McCann), are shocking in their blunt, angry honesty (“I will ruin you, if I have to, to keep you”), and provide a nice balance to the bizarre meetings Charlotte has with her guidance counselor concerning her career goals (Charlotte declares the porn industry to be steady and reliable, unlike flash-in-the-pan internet corporations).
It is difficult to imagine so many of this show’s fragile nuances falling on the right side of the tasteful line without the talents of its compelling cast. Laura Heisler delivers what surely must be an exhausting performance as Charlotte, diving headfirst into every explosive teenage emotion with more grit than suppression and allowing the audience to witness the sheer depths of pain she encounters while trying to cope with her life. Her aptitude for comedy is played up as well, reveling in the awkwardness of adolescence and causing waves of laughter with her reactions. Jason Jurman as Franklin and Reynaldo Valentin as Freddie complicate Charlotte’s life as her imaginary best friend and imaginary boyfriend without coming off as complete jerks. Director Daniel Aukin has done a marvelous job of ensuring that the cast “fits” together, with each actor on the same wavelength right done to their speech patterns.
As the lights came down on Charlotte’s painful and riotous journey, the audience actually heaved an audible, collective sigh, as if each member had been holding their breath for the entire duration of the play. Though only 110 minutes, Everything Will Be Different feels like reliving those tragic four years all over again, though this time with the knowledge that we’ll never be forced to go back again.
Soho Rep with True Love Productions