'Out of Bounds'
through Feb. 20 -- Theatre Cedar Rapids (theatrecr.org); $25
Talkback: Out of Bounds
Thursday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. -- facebook.com/theatrecedarrapids
On a stage that resembles a blueprint for adolescence at its cruelest, the protagonist Amy’s origin story in TCR’s Out of Bounds unfolds before the audience in a frustrating, unrelenting-battle-against-the-system fashion. Slut-shaming. Victim-blaming. Mean girls (of all ages) galore. With a showtime of 90 minutes, the 10-act production brings to life a 14-year-old girl’s trauma with cyberbullying after a dare goes wrong, unearthing the raw ugliness and callous mob mentality endemic in the American public school system.
The stage, designed by S. Benjamin Farrar, is simply a bright blue floor with white lines—reminiscent of scaling assignments in high school shop class. Breaking up the grid are diagonal contours to show where rooms are, aided by the presence of walk-through, blue doorways, looming like an optical illusion. The other limited scene props include colorful, modern mid-century dining room chairs that serve as both student desks and living room couch, as well as a white board for the classroom. The strategic minimalism of the productions allows for the actors to carry the heavy burden of the content material.
From the beginning, it seems easy to see where the lines are drawn between “good” and “bad.” There’s Amy (Lily Gast), the new girl in the baggy clothes who loves to run and write; Dani (Katey Halverson), Miss Popular with negative opinions about everything and everyone but herself; and Madi (Ferin Bergen), a classmate-teetering-on-friend who unfortunately doesn’t have a mind of her own. But as the show weaves through the drama, slowly uncovering pieces beyond the surface, it’s evident that nothing is ever as it seems.
Gast gives a stunning performance as a young woman trying to navigate the pressures of being an “outcast” and the weight of attending three schools in two years, as well as the hierarchy built on the insecurities of teenagers. Through black and white scenes where she breaks the fourth wall, Gast easily convinces us of the severity of a young person’s emotions and problems, and the intensity of the paradox to be confident in who you are when you’re still trying to figure it out. Another standout in a stellar cast is Rachel Korach Howell as her mother, expressing the internal dilemma of supporting a daughter suffering similar trauma that she herself has yet to overcome. Bergen also excels in gaining compassion from the audience as she bends to the whims of her peers.
The harsh reality of middle school, the dangers of social media and the struggles of a generation that has known nothing other than a double-life flow fierce in the show’s veins. Yet the social conditioning, narrow vision and wretchedness mired deep in decades of misplaced righteousness are the true masterminds driving the narrative in Out of Bounds — and they form a well-oiled machine.
Characters such as substitute teacher Mr. F/TJ (Anthony Hendricks), Mr. Grant (Omarr Hatcher), Amy’s mother, Allison (Howell), and the show’s own “Karen” a.k.a. Christine (Carrie Pozdol), help fill in the gray scale that is the dark side of the human condition. However, the heart of the play exists in a place with a little more light where hope can grow: Nasty words, and the people who spew them, don’t define you — only you wield that sword.
“You say I’m on the outside, but I’m not outside if I decide the boundaries.”
Out of Bounds, written by Jennifer Fawcett with Working Group Theatre, is rooted in real conversations with teens, parents and teachers within our very own community — taking a conjectural problem and forcing it into the light until it’s impossible to continue with passivity. With a content warning of “Viewer conversation is encouraged,” this play is a necessity for modern classrooms, especially during today’s health crisis, where most of these discussions are taking place within the virtual sphere.
Admittedly, it may be difficult to find your footing as the play begins if, like me, your freshman year of high school took place when phones had actual keyboards (or if you are from an era of pagers, cheesy notes or rocks and chisels). The blatant disrespect for teachers, peers and even one’s self comes crashing at the show’s threshold with a vengeance, leaving the viewer slightly off balance.
But with overt stereotypes and common themes at the forefront, Out of Bounds makes room for all of us to take a step back and remember what it was like to grow up in front of the same people for years on end, never swaying too far from the edge of social acceptability out of fear of rejection. Now try to imagine that life stage with 24/7 access to technology, ever-expanding social media platforms and a quickly widening gap between humanity and virtual reality. Society thinks kids don’t know anything or that they aren’t warranted respect for their issues, when really, their issues are also our very own.
Behind every “inappropriate” photo is a story, a person. Buried within a troublemaker is a past and their own villain. From the youth today to your grandfather on Facebook, the protection of a screen has viciously eroded our ability to take a pause and empathize. Since when did the “golden rule” become so — so two-thousand-and-late?
Out of Bounds is available virtually now through Sat. Feb. 20 on TCR’s website. The suggested ticket price is $25 per household or classroom, but the performance has a “pay as you wish” option in order to allow accessibility for everyone in our community.
There will be a talkback on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. with playwright Jennifer Fawcett and Dr. Chris Okiishi, hosted by Cavan Hallman. Open to all, the conversation will cover cyberbullying, the development of the play and the approach of the current production.