By Mark A. Young
Produced by The Side Project Theatre
Director Anna C. Bahow
Saying Everything Without Saying Much
Mark Young is one of a handful of playwrights who captures the imprecise, highly contextualized language of younger Americans. His ear for cadence, inflection and oblique comment is pitch-perfect and his knack for getting the language on paper gives his contemporary young characters an authenticity that allows the audience to feel that they are eavesdropping on private conversations. Director Anna C. Bahow, who directed Young’s highly acclaimed New Orleans in 2007, understands his understated work and is a genius at bringing it to the stage – if one can refer to the tiny black-box confines at Side Project as “the stage.” No matter, if anything the closeness of Anders Jacobson’s Lake Michigan beach set only adds to the eavesdropping effect.
Former coeds and constant girl pals, Amber and Beth, head to the lake one Saturday afternoon to get baked – sun, beer, weed. Beth (Sadie Rogers) is planning her winter wedding to her longtime bf and Amber (Kristina Johnson) is getting over the latest in a never ending string of sexually charged affairs. One represents the conventional path: one guy; one job; marriage, children and the suburbs on the horizon. The other represents narcissistic adventure: wanderlust, sexual adventure, self-indulgence, and isolated uncertainty on the horizon. Both are equally unhappy and equally frightened about the future. In the cracks of their small talk is a conversation that gets to the core of today’s information-overloaded young adults’ struggle to come to grips with the meaning of life. This is heavy shit, but what the fuck…gimme a beer. If that last sentence troubles you, The Rocks is likely too explicit for your tastes.
The Rocks is a female counterpoint to the guy angst ramblings of the earlier New Orleans. Both shows take place over the course of a several hours’ conversation between good friends as they get wasted. Time is compressed through the use of rapid blackouts and an increasing number of empty beer bottles. The plot device is as simple as the language of the 20-something pals, but the thematic content is insightful and thought provokingly complex. Big questions are eternal, but two centuries of technology and 20 years of the Internet have altered the context in previously unimagined ways. No other house in town is as consistently successful as Side Project at interpreting contemporary reality from a young perspective and at attracting the young acting talent that can perform it. This production of The Rocks will only add to that well deserved reputation. Johnson and Rogers are perfectly cast and director Bahow never lets them fall into any of the triviality that could ruin such a sensitive piece. The rapid fire blackouts got on my nerves at one point, but the magnitude of this show’s sagacity more than made up for it.
The Rocks runs as part of a double bill with Lynne McMahon’s one-act play, The Bird Sanctuary. Tickets for the two shows may be purchased together, separately, or in a variety of packages that include other one-acts presently in repertory at The Side Project. See their website for details: www.thesideproject.net
The Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis St., Chicago, IL, Tickets: 773-973-2150 or www.thesideproject.net , $15, Friday & Saturday at 9:00 pm, Sunday at 2:30 pm (follows another one-act, The Bird Sanctuary, shows available individually or as a package), Running time is 1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission.