The Bully Plays
Theatre Cedar Rapids, Grandon Studio — through June 17
The short plays that make up The Bully Plays have all the subtlety of a punch to the gut.
In the Theatre Cedar Rapids Grandon Studio under the direction of Amanda Mayfield, a cast of 10 young people and five adults present 12 of the 24 texts compiled and edited by Linda Habjan.
The brief plays are written by various authors, but they are consistent in their lack of nuance. Even in a script like Dwayne Hartford’s “The Bully Pulpit,” which attempts a bit of irony, the line between a bully and her victims is sharply drawn and obvious from the start.
A case could be made that it simply cannot be otherwise in a compilation of short scripts dedicated to shining a bright light on a social ill. The brevity of each scene requires a kind of straightforwardness and the seriousness of the topic calls for a clear delineation between heroes, victims, villains and bystanders. Still, 90 minutes of this approach is more punishing than powerful.
That said, the ensemble cast was strong on opening night, and the younger cast members were adept at stepping into new roles every few minutes. Occasionally, the line delivery felt more memorized than deeply felt, but in the show’s most affecting moments, this was not the case.
Standouts among the young people include Augie Charipar, Becca Hauschild and Kyra LaGrange. But it is Kyle Pratt, a sixth grader, who all but steals the show with his performance in “The Conundrum,” in which a man in his late 40s, played by Mike Wilhelm, imagines confronting the boy who bullied him when he was 14. Pratt is wholly convincing in his role, and he earned the audience’s laughter as he mocked and cracked wise to his former victim while also helping him work through his feelings. The duo also deftly handled the basketballs that are central to the scene.
Adults Wilhelm and Paige Junge are members of the primary cast, but three other adults, david e. hein, Marcia Hughes and Jody Lippman, each take the stage for monologues written by José Cruz González. Hughes menacingly prowls the stage as a woman who transformed herself from victim to bully en route to business success. Hein brings palpable emotion to his story of a man who regrets his youthful bullying. Lippman touchingly reveals how a cruel rumor can upend a life.
The technical aspects of the show are all successful, including the haunting pre-recorded a cappella (and often solo) performances of snippets of angst-driven pop and rock song that serve as transitions between scenes.
The Bully Plays opts for clarity rather than complication, and the young people in the cast — and one hopes, by extension, in the audience — make it clear that they won’t passively accept bullying in their lives. The Bully Plays runs through June 17, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18-24.