Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Also see Richard's review of Benefactors
TheatreWorks is currently presenting the Northern California premiere of Annie Weisman's coming of age comedy, Be Aggressive. The production stars Tony winner Daisy Eagan and local favorite Amanda Duarte as two teenage cheerleaders from yuppie families in a perky coastal town in Southern California. Cheerleading themes have been an emblem of America currently with three films recently based on this metaphor. Ms. Weisman is becoming one of Southern California's best playwrights; she is suddenly much in demand with commissions from South Coast Repertory, Mark Taper Forum and Rhode Island's Trinity Rep and has been described as a female Neil Simon due to her ear for dialogue. She has the speech patterns of today's Southern California teenagers down pat.
Be Aggressive had its world premiere during the 2001 season at the La Jolla Playhouse. It played to sold out audiences. TheatreWorks is the second theater to present this black comedy with an edge. Following this engagement the play will be presented at the Dallas Theater Center October 16 through November 10.
Set in a beachfront community in Southern California, the play centers on 17 year-old cheerleader Laura (Daisy Eagan) and her best friend Leslie (Amanda Duarte). Laura's mother has been killed in a hit and run auto-pedestrian accident. Laura finds herself having to care for her ultra-precocious 11 year-old sister Hannah (Sarah Lord) and bereaved and highly dependent father Phil (Jackson Davis). Laura and tart-talking Leslie have no self esteem as cheerleaders so they conspire to run off to a cheerleading and self-help seminar called "The Spirit of the South."
Act one is mostly a satire on materialism, the lives of the yuppie class in Southern California with quick changing scenes and sharp dialogue. It's full of pungent chants of rage, loss and loneliness. The scenes are vigorous, colorful and slightly overdone. The teenage slogan "whatever" is used a lot. The second act becomes more serious as the playwright begins to take the characters more thoughtfully. The scenes of the two teenagers traveling across the country in Leslie's mother Lexxus dissolve into an earnest social commentary. There is a subplot involving Phil, an environmental consultant on a freeway project who most of the town despises, and Leslie's change-smoking mother (Julia Brothers), who is the leader of the opposition.
Be Aggressive shows us the world of pom-poms, Prozac, back tucks, blackmail, freeways and juice clubs. This is an antiseptic world of ice plants and cilantro worship where bulimia and breast implants are major problems for teenagers.
Daisy Eagan is appealing as lonely Laura. Unfortunately, she never emerges as a well defined personality. Amanda Duarte as Leslie steals every scene. She is the hyper-cheerleader. Leslie is energetic, fast talking and sharp-tongued. Playwright Weisman has given Leslie the best one-liners and Ms. Duarte gives them the right spin. She wants to be the world greatest cheerleader so she will not become like her mother who is a "Maybelline monster."
The rest of the cast is terrific. Jackson Davis as the bereaved father gives an unexpected depth to not having a clue as to what is going on with his family. Sarah Lord is properly annoying, without going overboard, as the 11 year-old younger sister. Julia Brothers is excellent as Leslie's mother. She brings pride to the play's most maltreated character.
Andrea Bechert's set is interesting with a gigantic cement pylon, the foundation of a freeway, that jets out in front of a vast video screen containing a coastal cloudscape. The lighting bathes the deep set in an eerie blue and there are compact set pieces that slide in and out on the bare space under the freeway overpass. Director Wendy C. Goldberg gives a snappy pace to the production. However, there are choppy scenes - many in the first act are too short to establish the characters properly.
Be Aggressive runs through August 18 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. For tickets call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org. Their next production is Ragtime with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally. It opens on September 4 at the Mountain View Center.