Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The plot follows five teenage girls at a cheerleading practice and what happens when one of them, Mia, suddenly develops a nervous spasm which she is unable to control. As excellently portrayed by Isa Muiño, Mia is at first almost a bit amusing repeatedly yelling "Hey, hey, hey!" and displaying an involuntary hand gesture. However, that feeling of humor quickly disappears and becomes a thing of fear. Without revealing too much, these nervous spasms spread, in different forms, to a couple of the other cheerleaders and, as a result, life for these girls becomes scary and confusing, eventually leading to others ostracizing them.
One of the strongest aspects of the production is the fine acting by the entire cast. The gifted Olivia Billings is just perfect as cheerleader captain Shannon, and she overflows with perkiness and an aura of leadership. Kendyl Grace Davis is extremely good as Madison, by turns bitchy and sympathetic; one can definitely sense that there is a pecking-order amongst this group of girls. Shannon Helene Barnes is ideal as Maggie, the one freshman on the squad, completely believable as the student everyone seems to dump on and dismiss. Still, in a company of equals, Julia Crowley stands out just a little as Charlotte, perhaps because the playwright shines a light into this character's home life, which is more than a bit dysfunctional.
Director Tracy Brigden does a wonderful job keeping Hysterical! running smoothly and, with each new scene, there is more of a feeling of uneasiness, which only intensifies as the show progresses. Scenic designer Emmie Finckel provides an appropriate and attractive set for cheerleading practice, and Brenda Phelps' costume design helps to characterize each of the students. The lighting design by Adam Lobelson is extremely effective and Jason Peck's sound design is crystal clear. Providing the cheerleading knowhow throughout the show is cheer coach Bianca Paolello, who has transformed these actresses into a perfect cheerleading squad, with the entire cast being absolutely flawless in their moves and formations.
In Hysterical!, the audience only gets to see these five characters, but the fear of the world around them is palpable. The events in this play are heartbreaking and fully demonstrate how a sense of confusion and uncertainty can lead to widespread panic. Upon leaving the show, it was difficult to separate the terror in the show with the present world we are all living through. Hysterical! is definitely not the feel-good comedy about cheerleaders one might expect at the outset. Instead, it delves deeper into the lives of these five girls and emerges as quite an unforgettable show.
Hysterical! runs through August 6, 2022, at Thrown Stone Theatre Company, 440 Main St., Ridgefield CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.thrownstone.org.