Aired on KSDS-FM on 9/6/19
RUN DATES: 10/14/19 – 11/14/19
VENUE: Moxie Theatre
If you’ve ever wondered what pre-pubescent girls say to themselves and each other, Clare Barron’s “Dance Nation” has an off-the-wall way of showing you.
The competitive dance team from Liverpool, Ohio isn’t obsessed with boys. They’re preoccupied with their changing bodies, and their position in the pack.
They’re fixated on ambition, competition, masturbation, menstruation, how they’ll lose their virginity and what they’ll do with their lives. There’s talk of depression and suicide, and evidence of self-mutilation. But foremost in their minds at the moment is winning their way to the Nationals in Tampa Bay.
Several characters have direct-to-the-audience monologues that reveal who they will become, and how this seminal youth experience will have shaped them. Most of these are quirky, raunchy or provocative; some, less so.
As the script demands, the performers span a range of age and body-type, and none are trained dancers. This allows us to see them simultaneously as their younger and older selves.
Not only their peers have a lasting effect on them. There’s also the stern, soul-crushing Dance Teacher, who pushes them hard and shows transparent favoritism, especially during the casting scene that pays blunt homage to “A Chorus Line.” This contest assures that the Top Dog and Second Banana, though best friends, will be locked in a rivalry that undermines them both.
At times, the team devolves into a primal, feral pack, sporting fangs, and spouting ritualized war-chants that promote ‘pussy-power,’ even though one of them is a diffident, besotted boy.
Many thoughts are swirling, many layers unearthed in this intense, slyly funny 2018 play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The dialogue is crisp and credible. And director Jennifer Eve Thorn, opening Moxie Theatre’s 15th anniversary season, keeps the pace buoyant and the tonal shifts hormonally congruous.
She has a fearless, crackerjack cast of nine to depict these fierce adolescents, age 11-14, as vibrating bundles of confidence and uncertainty, narcissism and doubt. Their pronouncements are unsettling, their loneliness, even in the midst of a group, profound.
Their stories will surely take women back, and may take men by surprise.
©2019 PAT LAUNER