KPBS AIRDATE: August 3, 2001
Gimme a C. Gimme an H. Gimme an E. Gimme an E Gimme an R. Whaddaya got? A reason to cheer in the theater. There’s a fresh new dramatic voice in town, one that captures the sense, sensibility and nonsense of a younger generation, and should bring them stampeding to the La Jolla Playhouse. Annie Weisman, born and raised in Del Mar, has penned a screamingly funny, achingly accurate portrait of adolescent angst.
“Be Aggressive” is the rallying-cry of the cheerleaders of Vista Del Sol High… a place more than a little reminiscent of Weisman’s alma mater, Torrey Pines High School. At first, we learn from the perennially perky cheerleading trio that flips, skates and tumbles their way through and between scenes, that the mother of one of their ranks has just been killed in a freak hit-and-run accident. So, right off the bat, we’ve got this lamebrain pep-rally mentality juxtaposed with a genuine family tragedy. And so it goes for the evening… political activists are Lexus-driving moms; a back-flipping teen is forced to step into her dead mother’s shoes. And, taking their extracurricular activity to the extreme, a ditsy duo sets out to be the best, to be aggressively best — at cheering. To give it cultic devotion, so they can be on top of the proverbial human pyramid.
Motherless Laura and her Bad Seed buddy, father-abandoned Leslie, embark on a road trip that only a troubled teen could dream up. Is it, in fact, all a dream? The death of Laura’s mother is very real. So is her father’s work on the controversial new wetlands-destroying freeway through town. But without consequences for the girls’ runaway acts, with an unsatisfying, unlikely ending, maybe it was all in their minds. Maybe it was just Laura’s internal sense of good and right battling with her need for rebellion and attention. Either way, Weisman has a lot on her mind, and she’s got a uniquely wonderful way with words. She definitely writes from the kids’ perspective — the spoiled rich girls, the sib relationships, the food and sex obsessions, the anguish of growing up; they’re all spot-on, even if the adults are dorky incompetents who say things no parent ever would or should say.
Except for the murky resolution, everything else about this play and its premiere production is sensational. The cast is dazzling, from the first-rate veterans — Mark Harelik and Linda Gehringer as the lonely but far-fetched parents — to the amazingly talented younger set: Angela Goethals’ earnest Laura, Daisy Eagen’s smart but suffering little sister Hannah, Jennifer Elise Cox’s nasty but ultimately sympathetic Leslie, and those three chirpy, cheering harpies.
Lisa Peterson, whose 1999 direction of “Wonderland” was also memorably magnificent, brings that same spare production values, that same sharp insight to Weisman’s darkly comic, hiply ironic play. Rachel Hauck has designed an eye-popping pop-art set, a perfect complement to the California pop-culture jabs throughout. James Ingalls’ lighting and Audrey Fisher’s costumes keep the energy and the humor-factor high.
So, take a tip from the teens. Be Aggressive. Bring a young person to see this play… you’ll both have something to cheer about.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.