Sunday, January 21, 2007

Doing the math

Full disclosure: Kathryn Walat is a friend of mine. So when I went to see the Women's Project production (and world premiere!) of her play Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen, I wasn't at my most hypercritical. That said, now that I have seen it, I feel a little bit like I'm bragging when I mention (did I mention?) that Kate and I are friends. Becauseand I didn't know this for sure until I saw this showshe's quite a good playwright. And in VM:MTQ she has managed to write a comedy about high school students that is fully aware of the absurdities inherent in that world, but also somehow respectful of the high school experience. I always feel like, when adults write about teenagers, the teens end up trivialized and caricatured, or else overdramatized and oversexed (and sometimes both at once). But I think Kate gets it just right here; the comedy is broad, but the details felt true to my high school experience. Of course, neither Kate nor myself is so terribly far away from our high school days, but this play reminded me of things I'd forgotten, like elaborately folded notes, and the choreography of seeing this person in that stairwell between this class and that one, and the social implications of having a driver's license, and the major significance of grade level (how much better to be a sophomore than a freshman, and yet, how far below the seniors you remain!). And while I can look at all that now and realize it's silly, I know it wasn't silly to me at the time, and I didn't think the characters in this play were silly because all that mattered to them. They're just in high school, and that's what being in high school is like.

The show is not only funny and honest, but also family-friendly, another impressive feat, since it doesn't feel like anyone compromised themselves to make that possible. The production is good from every anglegreat set, great costumes, great soundand the cast is likeable and convincing (they really look like teenagers!). Adam Farabee is especially good as the sweet and geeky freshman Jimmy. And Jessi Campbell seems completely at ease, physically, in the title role, so it blew my mind a bit when I realized she was also the title character in last year's Inky (by Rinne Groff, also at Women's Project). That show called for an entirely different kind of physical presence, all awkward ungainliness where this character is the embodiment of perky confidence, and Campbell was equally convincing as both.

VM:MTQ made me glad I'm not still in high school, but at the same time a little nostalgic for my high school days. (For me it was speech and debate, not math team, but the cultures aren't so far apart.) Fortunately, unlike high school, this play only lasts 2 hours, and it's well worth your time!

P.S. You can hear Kate saying insightful and intelligent things about the play on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

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