all of what you love and none of what you hate
It would be a frustrating mistake to attempt understanding every single aspect of Philip Howze’s new play, all of what you love and none of what you hate. Better to step back and take in the gestalt, the totality. In San Francisco Playhouse’s world premiere production as part of its celebrated Sandbox Series, there is so much symbolism, metaphors, and abstractions built into the setting, the characterizations, and the script that to focus on any one or two individual puzzlements would be a futile exercise.
But stepping back and taking in the bigger picture of the whole, the powerful impact of all of what you love and none of what you hate is immense, shattering, shocking, and paradigm shifting. Before us is a young teenage girl, slumped in a puddle on the floor of a slanted, circular stage loosely resembling a bedroom. The actual bed along with a lamp, a stool, and a door are all hanging above, upside down, further alerting us that her life is all askew. Throughout the first part of the play, she tries unsuccessfully to make contact with her best friend, her mom, and her boyfriend. Each is too engrossed in a world focused on self to comprehend her signals for help, for listening. Girlfriend and mom only want to talk and talk and talk about their own lives, their plans, and the gossip heard online, on the phone, or on a talk show ... their incessant talking with almost no breaths literally turning into ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Boyfriend is too lost in his own macho world even to pay attention to her repeated phone messages or texts; and when he finally does take her call almost by mistake, he too only banters away ... that is, until she slips in two words ... “I’m pregnant.”
His immediate reaction first not to take any responsibility and second, just to hang up, starts a series of Google searches by the teenage girl whom no one in her life has the time or interest in listening to. We watch her frantic, computer-screen exploring on large screens; and we watch how this lonely, alone, and desperate girl hones in on choices that cannot lead to a good end. As she struggles on her own what to do next with only Google to guide her, ominous, black-hooded/clothed forms creep menacingly across the floor from dark corners toward her circled confinement. In voices eerie enough to cause hair to rise on the backs of our necks, they start dishing out countering ideas and advice. Like voices in her head, they strive to drown the others out and to win her over to their sides. Along the way, “what if” sequences (both pre-and post-pregnancy) appear on the big screen and in real enactments on the small stage. The tempo becomes more frenetic as her final worst-scenario choice leads to nightmares played out by the now-twisting, gnarled, screaming forms. Many specifics are now too difficult to comprehend, but the confusing parts all add to a whole that is frighteningly clear.
Britney Frazier is the teenage girl, fifteen years old, who communicates volumes with almost no spoken, full sentences during the first eighty percent of the play. Her postures, sighs, and frustrated attempts to be heard are gripping and heart-breaking in what they say about her. Later, when she does open her soul in words spoken to only the universe, her message is arresting and stunning.
|Tristan Cunningham & Britney Frazier|
Tristan Cunningham is the subject-jumping, fast-talking best friend who treats her cell phone like a microphone to blast her own news, gossip, and views about anything that pops into her mind at the moment. Talking on the phone to her friend is so totally engrossing that her entire body gets into the act, with hands flying, body jerking, and head bouncing in all directions. And when she finally says upon hanging up for her friend to call her because “you know me ... I like listening,” the irony is not lost on either her friend or us since not word one has been allowed to enter her ears from a friend so in need of some empathy and sympathy.
And our pregnant teenager’s mom (barely not a girl herself at the ripe old age of thirty-one) is no better when it comes to being there for her daughter. Like too many parents, she mostly wants to rattle off all the things she expects her daughter to do (the dishes, her homework, straighten up her room). When that list is fully enunciated in rapid succession, she is quick to tell her latest gossips and what she is going to do that night on the town (all becoming in the daughter’s and our ears, “Blah, blah ... Blah, blah”). Indiia Wilmont is excellent as the ego-centered mom who admits to liking every daytime talk show she sees, any advice column, and the opportunity to be published in the paper with letters to such columns (like one entitled “Why do men and women want different things from sex,” signed “Unsatisfied).
Rounding out our teen’s small circle is her boyfriend, or at least the boy whom she imagines is her boyfriend, although it is fairly clear that is not a term he would use. Cameron Matthews is a guy who saunters about talking in half sentences full of his street-language jargon. Constantly switching his baseball cap’s rim to face front, then back, then front again, he lectures us, the audience, on all the reasons why he cannot be the father, often in language and gestures that he surely would not use with own momma.
These latter three members of our teenager’s inner circle become the voices in her head and in her feverish nightmares that we see crawling, observing, madly dancing about in their black shrouds. Their jerky moves are accented with pleas, with chattering advice, with screams of anger and accusation, and with sounds that are unearthly. Exactly what is always meant by any one of them or any one utterance is usually not discernable; but that does not at the time seem all that important in order to understand the overall intent of their presence.
Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe has taken Philip Howze’s brilliantly conceived script and directed at a pace and a level of intensity that at times takes one’s breath away. So much is happening all around this lone teen in her room, sometimes almost too much. Not only do we have her to observe, we have the people and/or threatening forms mostly residing outside her circle; and we have frequently texts, screen shots, videos, pictures, and other items to watch and read (often in small print) on the big screens facing all four sides of the surrounding audience.
Zoe Rosenfeld’s scenic design has been described throughout this review and serves as a key character of the play itself. Many messages are symbolized quite clearly by the shapes and placements of stage and props. Sophia Craven’s lighting is no less important or impactful in conveying the fears, the anxieties, and the loneliness of despair that the set and script also portray. James Ard’s sound, Brian Herczog’s video, and Ellen Howes’ costumes all play starring roles in a production team that has joined this cast and the director in producing a bone-chilling evening.
Where I personally got lost was in the ending of the play. Somehow, either I let me mind wander or became distracted looking at other audience members across the way or at the video screen or something; but suddenly I realized that play had ended without my totally knowing what had just happened. Whether this is the fault of the new script or of the reviewer is unclear; but my guess, we both share a bit of the blame.
As I have noted in the past, the Sandbox Series of San Francisco Playhouse is a treasure for the local theatre scene as well as for daring playwrights who are writing the next chapters in the American anthology of drama. Time and again, the Sandbox Series has delivered stunning plays and performances; and this production of Phillip Howze’s all of what you love and none of what you hate is no exception.
Rating: 4 E
all of what you love and none of what you hate continues through September 25 at the Rueff stage of the Strand Theatre, 1127 Market Street, as part of San Francisco Playhouse’s Sandbox Series. Tickets are available online at http://sfplayhouse.org/ or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.
Photos by Ken Levin