Next Theatre Company. By JC Lee. Directed by Keira Fromm. With Amy J. Carle, Coburn Goss, Jerry MacKinnon, Tyla Abercrumbie, Erica Murphy. Running time: 1hr 35mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
A mother in what's clearly a tony suburban town is called into the charter school where her son is a popular senior. One of his teachers, disturbed by the violent imagery in an essay he wrote on assignment, took it upon herself to search his locker, and found a package full of dangerously potent, illegal fireworks. Complicating the politics and particulars of the situation: The mother, Amy (Amy J. Carle), is white; the teacher, Harriet (Tyla Abercrumbie), is African-American; and the son, Luce (Jerry MacKinnon), is African, adopted from conflict-strewn Congo.
Amy goes on the defensive, rushing home to consult husband Peter (Coburn Goss) and recoiling when he pauses to consider the possibility that Luce could be up to something. The violence and unpredictability that can manifest in adoptees from conflict areas was among Amy's greatest fears when they brought Luce home a decade earlier, and she clings to the conviction that they've moved past that specter with their football-playing, college-bound honor student.
Playwright JC Lee is examining two related trends in American education, I think. One is the incredible stress placed on kids and teens to achieve both academically and socially, particularly those who are held up as paragons among their peers (it's still the fall semester, and Luce is already doing the honor of giving his second invited address to the student body). Luce, it seems, is beginning to push back against being defined by his back story.
The other is the danger of parental overinvolvement, and the idea that a parent can, or should, know every detail of their adolescent kid's life. Amy is a bit of a helicopter parent, not just serving on the PTA but also priding herself on being Facebook friends with all of her son's classmates. But social media, like Luce's history, only shows some aspects of a full life, and in a fit of nervous nosiness, Amy discovers how much she doesn't know about her son's.
For me, Lee doesn't fully complete the line from the pressure Luce feels "to be what someone else thinks" to menacing teachers with explosives (and Luce, for the record, does his best to maintain plausible deniability). But ultimately, and despite the title, this might be more about Amy's behavior than her son's. And in Keira Fromm's well modulated production, four shrewd performances are sure to prompt conversations on the ride home. The cast and director keep things loose, if not lucid.