Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Moxie Celebrates Fifteen Years With Coming of Age Teens In “Dance Nation”.

It seems only fitting that Moxie Theatre, still in her teen years feature as its fifteenth season opening production “Dance Nation”, a San Diego premiere by Clare Barron. It’s about a group of pre- teen-division dancers (played by adults) rehearsing for the national champion dance competition in Tampa Bay, Florida to take the NATIONALS!
Cast of "Dance Nation"
Before they get there they still have to win the Legacy Talent Competition in Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio for Star Power USA; and Lanoka, New Jersey, for the Boogie Down Grand Prix. It’s a mighty task considering all the other ‘stuff’ going on in the dancer’s minds and what lies ahead. Let’s just say leaving twelve behind and entering your tween/teen years is not for sissies.

Yours truly remembers feeling awkward and out of place among my peers. Most were still bone skinny and I was already feeling the pressures of being overweight and, if you can believe it, the tallest girl in my 6th grade class. I’m still overweight and the shortest or so of my compatriots; so to hell with those years.

Along with the complexities of the dance moves (credit choreographer Lisa M. Green) they have to learn for the competition, the in fighting between the dancers as to who will come out of rehearsals the most valued, and who will take the lead in the new piece, the play takes us on a side journey, one of growing up with new discoveries of both mind and body and how obsessive those thoughts can become.
Darren Scott as as Dance Teacher Pat surrounded by his dancers
Barron’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist, “Dance Nation” is oft amusing, oft challenging, oft uncomfortable and squirming in your seat - I’d rather be someplace else rather than watching these almost reaching puberty women (and one guy) struggle with the first oncome of a  menstrual cycle, to what it feels like to lose your virginity to wondering what the first real kiss would feel like.  

While pushing to be the best and somehow never making it, still being attached to mother, and having self doubts and acknowledging in you heart of hearts that you are better than you give yourself credit for are just the tips of the iceberg topics happening as the company struggles to become one cohesive group.

The new piece they will be rehearsing will be called ‘Gandhi’. Daren Scott’s Dance Teacher Pat is both sympathetic and often authoritarian and brittle. He has the troupe making hissing cat sounds with what look like werewolf teeth, while patting himself on the back by telling the troupe:  “Something special. Something these judges have never seen before. Something that’s gonna kick ‘um in the gut and tell them there’s a revolution coming out of Liverpool, Ohio.”
Andrea Agosto as Ashlee
To accomplish all this in a one act play, director Eve Thorn, with her overall special cast of nine, interrupts the practicing away from the dancing and allows the cast to think out loud with wonderful soliloquies; some more powerful than others. (Credit Nat Parde for the effective lighting)

As mentioned above the actors are adults playing twelve to thirteen year olds tweens. There is never a doubt that after hearing their stories of anxieties, mother separation issues, fantasies, sexual development on their path to adulthood, convinces they are just what they represent in a kind of memory play of what they were/might have been/ will turn out to be. 

Joy Yvonne Jones (“Voyeurs de Venus”) is Zuzu, tall, stately, graceful and delightful to watch, determined to be the best struggles to understand why her dancing couldn’t cure her mother’s cancer or even make her cry.   

Her best friend Amina (Wendy Maples) is teachers pet and is being groomed as the next lead in the new play. Jones is by far the most graceful and quite stunning in her every move but as we watch her, unless you have the confidence and will to push ahead, you stay at number two. Amina has IT and pushes past everyone else in her determination to get it. Maples plays it low keyed but decidedly unwavering.
Joy Yvonne Jones and Wendy Maples
Zuzu’s mom (Sarah Karpicus plays all the mom’s) is her teacher and not so gentle on her daughter, but Luke (Eddie Yaroch) says ‘I’m a genius dancer, but he’s lying because he’s in love with me.’ So Jone's thirteen -year old –mind continues with self-doubts and as one looking for approval, Jones plays it to the hilt.

Ashlee, ‘if I get a dog it’s gonna be a wolf dog’, (Andréa Agosto) has by far has the standout monologue, confirming that all she denied about herself in the past was rubbish and now she’s going forward with confidence admitting she’s ready to go out there, show the world how good and assured she really is. Agosto, who has been seen in several Moxie productions, gives a Brava performance.

Farah Dinga’s Connie is shy but competitive and yearns for the lead as Gandhi. What she gets is not exactly what she prayed for. Sandra Ruiz’s Sofia is consumed with her sexuality and body parts and Yaroch’s Luke is the only guy in the group and somewhat of a mama’s boy. He is considered one of the girls as far as the rest are concerned but does a back turn when asked if he was circumcised.  Yes, the questions go off in many directions.

Li-Anne Rowswell plays Maeve with a trusting naiveté and childlike attitude and a passion for saving wolves. Wendy Maples Amina, and Joy Yvonne Jones’ Zuzu have their moments as ‘best’ friends, but the competition strains that friendship.

Scott’s Dance Teacher Pat is one of those personality roles that one compliments the other. Neither is far from the truth, Outside, the male dominated character in the play whose only interest is in perfecting the dancers, Scott delivers in spades. 

Writing about pre-teens in this day in age is quite different than it would have been in my day. One of the earliest plays I saw while on a visit to New York was Lillian Hellman's 1934 "The Children's Hour". The young girls in that play were a nasty lot, but everything in the plot was through implication. I can’t ever recall the language here (“pussy”) that would ever pass muster in my circle of friends without turning bright red. But then again I can’t imagine a president Roosevelt, Truman or Eisenhower using that language either.
(l to r) Eddie Yaroch, Joy Yvonne Jones, Daren Scott, Sarah Karpicus Violet, Farah Dinga, (center) Andrea  Agosto, Li-Anne Rowswell and Sandra Ruiz
Taking the piece as a whole and detailing each girl’s inner most desires and thoughts is a true test of knowing from whence the playwright comes. It’s an interesting study; one that will be at the forefront of my 11 year old grandson’s development as he enters his teens.
"Dance Nation"
Having three girls in the household with two years separating them always baffled my late husband as most of the drama in the play was played out in our household throughout their tween, teen and entering adulthood years.  

Credit Reiko Ries set design with the mirrored background moveable panels, Kate Bishop costumes (you had to love those sailor suits in the beginning), and Lily Voon, the sound design.

Once again Moxie Theatre has tipped the scales in bringing diverse and exciting theatre to our little playground in Rolando. It’s a trip worth taking. If you take an offspring it’s well advised to take someone a bit older than those in the troupe of dancers.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 15th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Phone: 858-598-7620
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N San Diego, Ca. 92115
Ticket Prices: Start at $20.00
Photo: Daren Scott

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