What's Wrong with You: A Review
What’s Wrong With You is a modern morality play complete with the hashtags, emojis, gifs, and memes with which our society now illustrates and expresses itself. Presented by the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company at the Stella Adler Studio this is the story of privilege in search of pain, youth seeking expression, and the escalating dangers they willingly create in order to wake the rest of us up from our mundane existences. What’s Wrong With You is potent theatre that entertains and haunts as it delivers a timely wallop of a message.
Written deftly by Jan Rosenberg, What’s Wrong With You tells a tale of New York Prep students Caden, Mae, Jonah, and Wendy who are bored with reality and searching for stimulating entertainment. Their minds are buried in their cell phones and all the social media that comes with it. Their attention spans are ticking distractions set to go off in the form of fake stunts meant to cause momentary shock and trauma. For them, this game is an amusement designed to teach a lesson. It’s a participatory social media spectacle that challenges them to stage these shocking events on the unsuspecting public wherever they see fit. Fake a death rattling asthma attack in a restaurant. Fake a horrendous fall and broken leg complete with painful screams at a park. Fake a bloody face planting fall at an ice skating rink filled with families at play. Throw yourself in front of a speeding car.
The youthful cast, directed with unerring skill and subtle control by Shira-Lee Shalit, is wonderful to watch. Caden is lost and in search of who he’s meant to be in the aftermath of his parent’s separation. He finds himself drawn into this world as he falls for Mae when he comes to her rescue after she fakes a seizure on the train he and his best friend Jonah happen to be riding on. John DiMino as Caden has just enough clumsy charm to make him lovable with a dark edge that rises with the increasing pressure he’s put under. It’s easy to see why he would be drawn to Mae as played by Alondra Perez who simmers with a twisted, alluring charm.
Mae’s best friend Wendy is her partner in gaming crime and Gabriella Urquia plays her with a skillful balance of innocence and maliciousness. Alex Bartner as Jonah tries to save them all but, as much of the well played reluctant hero that he is, that rescue comes a little too late. Quite a bit of the comedic foil falls to Petra Brusiloff as Caden’s younger sister Evie. Her brash interruptions and sarcastic asides to the adult wannabees around her provide constant proof that the next generation, with its own set of standards is never far behind. If there’s one weak link in this play it’s in the character of Rena. Like her son, Caden’s mother is also a soul in search of herself after breaking out on her own and Amy-Lee Pearsall performance does make you feel for her. Rena suffers from her own guilt and she tearfully endures the lashing out of her son but ironically the writing here fails her. As well written as the kids are the one adult character in the mix ends up getting lost.
Even with a cast this talented the design team comes very close to stealing the show. Scenic designer Anthony Freitas has created a clever and efficient set that helps to accentuate the student’s antics. Along with video designer Romo Hallahan, sound designer Margaret Montagna, and lighting designer Cha See this group creates an environment that visually, aurally, and emotionally assists in drawing the audience deeper into the drama. While set changes are being made two seemingly floating video monitors display the texts, and pics, and games the kids are indulging in between the action. The music selected and assembled for those changes are worthy of its own exemplary Spotify playlist. Add to all of this the projected images displayed on the upstage wall like a chaotic collage establishing location and mood and you’ve got a totally in sync production package.
What’s Wrong With You is a tightly told, well presented drama that never plays down to the young characters that inhabit its world. In fact, it speaks so well that each of them reads as fully realized individuals and never makes them out to be two dimensional cut outs, as most plays of this nature tend to do. That reality helps to frame their lives through the drama, the comedy, and the tension as the game they all play raises the stakes. Make no mistake, the game they play is for their own entertainment, and we are its willing victims because the more we disconnect from the world around us the more they seek to get our attention.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) and the Drama Desk. He welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.
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