Writer/performer Sean Lewis has this stunning symbiosis with director Matt Slaybaugh, and it hits new levels of fire and catharsis with their new collaboration Just Kids which is having its world premier at Available Light (in the CPAC for this show).
In a little over an hour, through few props and body language and an added knife in the back of “tapes” of characters who are embodied by Sean and who are not, he draws disparate voices and shows the similarities between them but (and this is every bit as important) he also doesn’t overplay the similarities. Seamlessly, and with seconds separating them, he goes from his father Rick, to a series of children in a school that’s “one step up from juvenile detention or a mental institution” he taught at for three months as part of the William Inge fellowship in Kansas, and always back to himself, shifting between observer and participant, his voice always the spine of the piece.
What differentiated this work from his previous, also moving and very physical, piece Killadelphia for me was the wider range of rhythm. It has a very similar tone, death-seriousness with flashes of riotous humor that don’t balance the other so much as throw them into relief, but there’s more space in Just Kids. He lets the characters and the discrete scenes breath just a little more, and the pace of the characters’ speech is more varied. The father isn’t just described as a drinker and a charmer and a man who knew money and love and power and lost it, it’s made incredibly clear through the two versions shown. First up, and directly addressing the audience, is the Rick of Sean’s Youth, half-remembered and invented partly from hearsay but impossibly large with a quick wit, confident gestures and barely repressed rage. Then there’s the Rick of the final scenes, caved in on himself, still echoing the earlier voice that resonates through almost every second he’s not on the stage but smaller, humbled, hitting in-character false notes in a performance that doesn’t hit any.
And the voices of the children Sean works with, observing their day-to-day struggles and his reactions to them, are stunning. Sharply understood and also baffled, slowly realizing their scars aren’t like his, and grasping what made that turn where he was in a very similar place come into the light for him and many of these kids won’t. That he does all of this without being heavy-handed, without yoking it to a tired redemption story, and still ends with hope – and, in the best showcase for Dave Wallingford’s mostly-invisible-in-the-best-way sound design, a King Lear thunderstorm – is a marvel. I laughed harder than I have in a long time and shed not a few tears at this.
Running through January 22. http://avltheatre.com/1011/blog/category/shows/jk/