Everything Will Be Different
nytheatre.com review by Matt Freeman
April 8, 2005
Before I had the pleasure of seeing Everything Will Be Different, a friend of mine and I amused ourselves over a beer by clicking off a few playwriting cliches we feared we’d be witnessing. The press release describes the play as an “exploration of teenage sexuality” so in our cynical way, we expected lines like “No one understands me.” A scene where the teenage girl is taken in by an older, more experienced guy. A long awkward scene where the action stops and we watch characters kiss or engage in sexual activity. Haughty arguments with a parent. The now completely expected gay best friend. The list was rather long.
Well... except for the gay best friend, quite a few of these moments, in some form, are on stage here. The shock of it is that this play is uniformly smashing: heartbreaking, hilarious, and tragic. Playwright Marc Schultz and director Daniel Aukin have taken what could well have been yet another after school special about teenage confusion and extracted the essential elements, satirized the right moments, taken cliche and transformed it into a cathartic, intensely personal experience. And they took my cynicism and used it for skeet shooting.
Schultz’s script tells the story of Charlotte, a 15 or 16 year-old teen, who, along with her father, lives in the aftermath of her mother’s death. Four parts, all introduced as Charlotte’s school paper on Helen of Troy, frame the play. We see her impotency in the face of her father’s bereavement and derision. We see her desperate desire to be desired. We see her off-color relationship with the men (and boys) that make up a teen’s life. And we see her fantasies clashing with the hard realities around her.
Despite the trappings of a traditional play, it’s the “beauty myth” that is being explored and exposed here. It becomes striking that what we hear about her mother is rarely anything but how she looked: how beautiful she was. Charlotte is an awkward girl, with acne, who feels ugly, whose maturity and sexual confusion are battling each other. Further aggravating her discomfort is the feeling that she must replace, reach the standard of, or simply forgive her lost mother. In the narrative, Charlotte isn’t comparing herself to Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, but to Helen’s daughter Hermione. All these clashing emotions make Charlotte one of the best on-stage examples of "damage" you’re likely to find. And this play is an uncompromising gaze at how the obsession with beauty can turn young women against themselves.
Helping the productions immensely is the first-rate cast. Laura Heisler's performance as Charlotte demands to be seen. She elevates the broadest outpouring of pain and the tiniest moment of thought. Knowing that she is playing far below her age, without a hint of condescension, just makes it all the more exciting a performance. But she’s supported on all sides by top-flight work. Geoffrey Nauffts is especially “on” as her guidance counselor, playing with the repetitions in the writing, pulling the audience into both his comedic and desperate moments without skipping a beat. Each member of the cast generously performs, though, from Naomi Aborn’s delivery as Charlotte's best friend, the deliciously vacuous Heather, doles out advice; to Jason Jurman’s winning portrayal as the not-so-vulnerable introvert Franklin; Reynaldo Valentin’s dead-on popular jock; and Christopher McCann’s casually cruel and emotionally crippled father.
The set and lighting are expert as well, using minimal indications of changing scenes in a warmly lit stage that puts us in what amounts to a barren home. It’s used to perfection by director Aukin, who adds just the right mix of simple imagery. Nothing is static, and the performances have room to breathe.
Everything Will Be Different takes what could have been My So-Called Life for library members, and turns it into a succinct and truthful experience. The writing soars above its genre, and the direction and acting are in rare form. If a cynic like me could walk out this enthusiastic, I expect that this gem will convince many others as well. See for yourself.