Full Circle Theatre Project’s production of From Up Here will have you thinking about it days later!
Soundtrack for reading: “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People
— ∮∮∮ —
The newly-minted Full Circle Theater Project of Richmond is neither cutely young nor fully seasoned. Composed of graduates of the School of Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC), this group of twenty-somethings performs with a raw intensity that mingles with their relative youth to set a really unique tone. OK, I know that sounds like flowery English major padding, but I mean it when I say that the performance of From Up Here (written by Liz Flahive and directed by former SPARC-er Emlyn Crenshaw) was extremely enjoyable and professional, and when I say I recommend it, I really do mean it as I found myself at the community garden the next day enthusiastically encouraging someone to go see it.
From Up Here starts out with a split stage showing a family kitchen and a school guidance office. It’s in the kitchen where the audience first meets Kenny (played wonderfully by awkward Michael Thibodeau) as he’s reading a postcard from his aunt (Meg Carnahan), who’s hiking in Nepal. At first, since you don’t know it’s his aunt, you might be thinking it’s a set-up for a long-distance boy/girl romance, yay! But no. Quickly the play turns much darker. This isn’t a breezy waltz of a play–this is a series of gut-punches. But you don’t know that right from the start (well, now you do, since I told you). From Up Here lets you in on what’s happening slowly, illuminating the picture piece by piece.
As the family–mom Caroline (Julia Greer who looks so not-mom-ish off-stage but yet fully embraces the role on-stage), step-dad Daniel (Donald Evans), younger sister Lauren (Allison Gilman) and Kenny–races around the kitchen stumbling over each other, there’s something brewing underneath. There’s tension, gritted teeth, and deep breaths. Something is lurking below the surface. But as they stumble and awkwardly snap and bend around each other, everyone’s out the door, off to school, off to start the new day even though already the new day is feeling worn out and not very shiny. Something is wrong.
Later, we see Lauren and Kenny at school seated at the familiar, long lunch table with its blue stools, where Kenny is sitting with…not friends, but rather Lauren. Just Lauren. They are conspicuously alone.
I don’t want to give too much away, but at the same time, I have to go into some detail here to really talk about the play as a whole, so here’s a quick heads-up. From here on out there be spoilers:
Gilman balances the dual sides of younger, annoyed teenage sister and protective sister with deftness. Together the siblings play out a strange dynamic, that of an older brother who’s suffering through the aftermath of having taken a gun to school and a younger sister who knows he wouldn’t have done it, insists he couldn’t have done it, and she’s angry at the way they’ve become pariahs. She tries to joke around with him, making light of the situation, but Kenny jolts her out of it, and everything is off-kilter–just like the reality they’re living. Kenny can’t be anywhere without adults monitoring his every move, searching his backpack, signing him in and out of school. It’s awkward. It’s disconcerting. It’s something neither he nor his family members know exactly how to handle. Who would? As he goes through the motions–guidance counselor meetings, writing out apologies to the student body–it’s apparent that everyone is trying desperately to figure out how to live and adjust to this new reality.
There are two scenes that really solidified my enjoyment of this production. First, a scene in which Lauren confronts the perky Kate (a mentor assigned to Kenny in an effort to help him transition back regular student life). Anyone who’s got a sibling can identify with Lauren’s feeling of intense protectiveness, even while she may roll her eyes at her brother at other times. For a character who so far has acted as mostly just a sibling, it’s a sharp and welcome turn to see her suddenly grow into a much more powerful force over the course of a few sentences. It is as if her character grows a foot taller.
The other scene of note is a similar exhibition of long-withheld emotions forced into the open, this time between Kenny and mom Caroline. Both the tightly-wound teenager and broken parent teeter on the edge of holding it together and completely breaking apart as they tread around the issue and try to communicate, leading up to a tightly controlled outburst by Thibodeau in the kitchen. For both actors, but particularly in the case of a young actress playing an older parent, the execution of this scene is a mark of talent.
From Up Here isn’t just about the aftermath of a family with a son who brings a gun to school–it could be about any abrupt change in a family. It’s about betrayal (a nod to Carrington OBrion is in order here for her bubbly role as Kate1), about family loyalty, about positivity both forced and real2, about building families, and about the torment that high school can be. It’s about taking a breath and facing reality in order to grow from it. It’s about falling apart and then picking up the pieces.
Oh, and the ending? So perfect! I’m not going to tell you why it’s perfect, but days later I’m still thinking about it. Go see it.
— ∮∮∮ —
- I knew I remembered her from another production and finally deduced it had been from SPARC’s A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant several years ago, which I think says something: I remembered a very young actress, from several years ago, from a play I watched purely for kicks and not for reviewing. She’s good! ↩
- Hunter Boothe’s annoyingly perfect portrayal of the super-positive school counselor is a good opposite to the at-first-also-annoyingly-positive Jimmie Jarvis character of Charlie, who you end up rooting for. One of the little delightful bits of this play is the endearing portrayal of That Guy from high school who REALLY IS that nice and positive all the damn time. ↩
Photo by: Full Circle Theatre Project