nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
August 17, 2011
At 17, Sofia Johnson is the youngest playwright in the FringeNYC Festival this year, presenting a smartly-written, heartfelt piece about a young woman dealing with grief and growing up. A standout performance from the lead, with strong supporting cast, allow the very best of this young writer to come to the fore.
Nicole Horowitz is a 17-year old brainiac—top of the class, straight A student—whose twin sister, Natasha, threw herself off the top of their apartment building a week ago. They were polar opposites—Nicole hyper-intelligent, ambitious and emotionally cold; Natasha a seeming emotional wreck, destructively creative and rebellious. Nicole speaks directly to the audience for much of the play, as it is through her eyes that we see all the other characters and how they have reacted to Natasha’s death. Natasha appears frequently, bringing on Nicole’s old glasses and making her put them on, which triggers a flashback (cleverly alluded to with a music motif) and allows the audience to see just how different these fraternal twins were.
The plot itself is predictable, which is dangerous as it can easily therefore run into cliché, but Johnson’s writing is honest and straightforward, never allowing that to happen. The real arc of the play is watching Nicole go from emotional statue to the beginnings of an emotional breakthrough, able to accept her feelings for the first time. However, we avoid the hyperbole that could all too easily creep into a play of this kind and it is a testament to the maturity of the writing from such a young author that it never happens.
This is also due to the superb central performance by Alexandra Jennings as Nicole. She is funny, heartbreaking and infuriating all at once—never taking the obvious choices with Nicole’s emotional journey and instead giving an honest and beautiful performance of a young woman struggling to understand her grief. Although on the surface Natasha should be the more complicated character, it is Nicole who has layers upon layers of repression and self-inflicted restriction, brilliantly laid bare to the audience in Jennings’s performance.
Juliette Marcos as Natasha is wonderfully raw and angry, in contrast—life sucks, she hates everything, she loves to graffiti her bed—and the two play off each other to great effect in their scenes. There is a natural sisterly chemistry between them that provokes laugh-out-loud moments as well as more serious ones.
Rachel Murdy is woefully underused as Mrs. Horowitz and as Nicole’s principal (and the hilarious, non-speaking dinner lady) and I would love to see the play develop further with these characters given more room to grow. This is also true for Natasha’s friends Maddie (Lauren Marcus) and Darius (Frank Williams)—their story is hardly told but the glimpse we see is intriguing and I wanted more of it. Anna Foss Wilson’s direction is never heavy-handed, but with a light touch she has created a coherent and moving piece with fully-formed and real, understandable characters. I hope this is the start of a great career for the author; theatre needs more young talent like her.