Playwright: Naomi Iizuka. At: Writers' Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. At: The Brown Paper Box Co. at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: $20; www.brownpaperbox.org . Runs: through June 16
Life as a twentysomething is pretty crazy. Trust me on that one.
Okay, so maybe you've been there before yourself: that time in life where the future seems objectively endless, but subjectively, nothing for the future is falling into place (or everything is falling into place) (or bits and pieces are falling into place but we're not sure how we feel about those pieces).
Naomi Iizuka's Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls, now playing at the Brown Paper Box Co., examines this stage of life as a way to explore larger, existential themes of identity how it evolves over the course of our lifetime.
Although the play incorporates a number of abstract elements, such as characters that change species, it still meshes with the stripped-down production quality of Brown Paper Box Co. The tiny Heartland Studio becomes a box of sorts where time, space and reality are negated, and the only truth is the human experience.
The play begins in New York City following several characters and story lines that all converge or connect over the course of the play. Not an unusual setup, but two actors play both male and female characters and one plays a dog. The relationships that form throughout are temporary at first and then surprising later on. Sexuality proves to be equally as fluid, another way Iizuka illustrates life's lack of permanency.
Most of this eight-person ensemble offers something substantial in this intimate production. Highlights are Christopher Hart as the troubled writer Derek, Pamela Mae Davis as Vivian, a woman who loses everything at once, including her purse, and company member Anna Schutz, who plays the troubled young Billy and bright-eyed Joy. The comedy comes predominantly from Luke Michael Grimes, who is hilarious as both the quirky schoolteacher Myrna and the tense millionaire Richard.
All the characters represent different examples of identity struggle, so at times it can be challenging for the actors to turn them into meaty, interesting characters, especially when so much of the play is philosophy presented through metaphoric action and theoretical dialogue. Things can get too abstract and consequently a tad dull at times, but the production effectively conveys what the playwright offers.
When you're in your 20s, there's always something missing in life; even those who have found fulfillment in one way are missing it in another or are uncertain about it. And when you do make a bold choice to make a changelike moving to Alaska or getting away for a while to Hawaii or Borneo as these characters dothe questions keep coming in other forms. The play's characters all respond to their various emptinesses differently, but none reaches a place of clarity. Ultimately, they must find a path to acceptance, which is the essence of understanding identity.
And who better to perform Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls than young actors pursuing their passion and undoubtedly struggling with some of these same issues in their own lives? The production is a good fit for Chicago, which has seen more than a few twentysomethings flocking toward it, hoping to discover the next steps toward the rest of their lives.