By Clare Barron
Directed by Becca Wolf
San Francisco Playhouse
Ok, perhaps I’m not quite as aware of the zeitgeist of pre-teen females as I should be, but after viewing the Bay Area premiere of Clare Barron’s award-winning Dance Nation I think I should be frightened. These girls are ambitious, mean, competitive to an alarming degree and exhibit moments of intense male-hating that made my family jewels twitch.
Using a cast of multi-generational women portraying these 13-year old girls was ostensibly to illustrate how all women carry their pasts throughout their lives. Very heady stuff, but I kept thinking – they couldn’t cast age appropriate girls? The play presents like a youthful Chorus Line complete with a domineering male coach smashed up with a kiddie version of The Vagina Monologues. Press kits contain an Audre Lorde article on the “Uses of the Erotic as Power”, positing that the erotic is the most self-responsible source of women’s power and is a unifying promoter and creative force for revolutionary change.
Alright, so watching these girls muse on masturbation, menstruation and male bashing is edgy stuff? I suppose if the dialogue had been better written or the staging tighter. None of the women cast are dancers it seemed, yet we’re supposed to believe this troupe are champions. There are two male characters presented; one a buffoon coach with no depth or sympathy, the other a meek, maybe gay kid who seems to want to bond with the gals but is an outsider because of his sex.
The gals are either competing with each in tiny cliques, supposedly supporting each other with little knives behinds their backs. In a disturbing opening scene, a dancer falls and has bones sticking out of her knee – her pleas for help lost amongst her teammates and staff. Its dog eat dog in the competitive dance world, a great lesson for these pre-teens about the real world, I guess. Stock stage mother’s move in and out of the scenes, one supportive to a fault, the other denigrates her daughter with not so subtle derision.
Dance Nation attempts to be edgy and dangerous but unlike its peer, Marin Theatre Company’s production of The Wolves, fails to engage the audience or engender empathy.
Dance Nation continues through November 9, 2019 at SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco. Tickets available at www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling 415-677-9596.
Photos by Jessica Palopoli