Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Boys Go to Jupiter
Also see Patrick's review of Follies
Word for Word is a theatre company devoted to staging works of short fiction. True to their name, every word of a story is spoken on stage, including all the instances of "he said," "they laughed heartily," "she threw up her arms in disgust"–or any other description or bit of exposition a story might contain. Word for Word has long been one of my favorite companies, for many reasons. They stage their shows with tremendous imagination and draw terrific actors from the Bay Area talent pool. But most of all, their productions never fail to enrich the stories they produce, because the director and each actor are able to bring their own individual points of view to bear on the text, providing the audience a more diverse interpretation of a work than any single reader could experience on their own.
Boys Go to Jupiter, a story by Danielle Evans, dips its toe into the world of "cancel culture," but dives more deeply into systemic racism and youthful indiscretion.
While Claire is visiting her father (Joel Mullennix) and (almost) stepmother Puppy (Courtney Walsh) in St. Petersburg, Florida, where daddy has retired and Puppy spends her days "strolling the house in expensive loungewear," boredom leads her to hook up with local loser Jackson (Brennan Pickman-Thoon). Jackson gives Claire a confederate flag bikini, which isn't really Claire's thing, but it's better than wearing one of Puppy's suits, which is "spangled with faded glitter and sags over Claire's bee-sting breasts." Just before she heads back to school, Jackson snaps a photo of her in front of his pickup truck, "leaning against the crisp foil-flash of the bumper, the bikini's Xs making her body a tic-tac-toe board." But after Jackson posts the photo to his Facebook page, it somehow finds its way to Claire's campus, where Carmen (Aidaa Peerzada), the sole black student on her dorm floor, finds it threatening. Rather than explain how the unfortunate photo was made and apologize to Carmen, Claire doubles down by printing out a Confederate flag image, writing a snarky note on it and sliding it under Carmen's door.
Hundreds of angry text, voicemail and Facebook messages later, Claire's life takes an abrupt right turn. She is championed by the campus Libertarian club, but Claire's relationship with her childhood BFF, Angela (a black girl whose family moved into Claire's Virginia neighborhood when the girls were six), takes a decided turn for the worse, and Claire's actions in the present count far more than their past closeness.
Eis plays the unsettled Claire with a wonderful physicality; the way she tugs at her un-tucked shirttails, scrunches her shoulders in a sort of self-defensive posture, and widens her eyes as the cyber world attacks her all contribute to our sense of her predicament. It's as though she's caught in a raging river, borne rapidly downstream through cataracts toward the roar of a pounding waterfall–yet we want to tell her "you're the one who jumped in!"
The rest of the cast is mostly terrific, especially Pickman-Thoon, whose Jackson exudes an unctuous (and undeserved) alpha male cockiness. His charming smile says, "you're gonna love me whether you want to or not." Tre'Vonne Bell (who was a wonderful discovery in Aurora Theatre's Exit Strategy) plays Angela's brother Andre with a stillness that communicates power rather than lethargy. And Evan Held is appropriately earnest as the young campus Libertarian.
If you've never experienced Word for Word, Boys Go to Jupiter would be an excellent way to dip your toes in the water.
Boys Go to Jupiter plays through July 31, 2022, at Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $38-$63. For tickets and information, please visit ZSpace.org or by calling 415-626-0453.