My first thought after watching one full-length play is rarely ever "I would now like to watch another play!" But that's just the kind of sick fun Forward Flux producer Wesley Frugé is offering over at West of Lenin for the next few weeks. For $50 (or else $35 per show) you can watch a double feature of two music-forward plays. The first is the world premiere of las mariposas y los muertos by Benjamin Benne. The second is the Northwest premiere of No More Sad Things by Hansol Jung.
Skip the first one, but see the second. It will surprise you.
Benne's play, the one you should skip, is about a trio of young women who start a rock band called Las Mariposas. He does find some real tension in the band's struggle to achieve fame without selling out their Latina heritage along the way. (Note: About one-sixth of the play is in Spanish.) But for all the right-on righteousness of the play's politics and casting choices, lots of characters tell each other exactly how they feel, lots of woke-speak chokes the dialogue, and lots of linguistic choices flatten the characters out. The actors, all good performers, did what they could with the language but never really settled into it.
Jung's No More Sad Things, however, is hilarious, tender, and all the more impressive given its unacceptable subject matter: It's about a 32-year-old white woman who finds out that a hunky Hawaiian boy she had sex with on a beach in Maui is 15 years old.
The actor who plays the confident 15-year-old "waterman" Kahekili (his real name is Lance Valdez and he's 23), looks to be twice the size of Kiki Abba, who plays the completely broken and pathetic 32-year-old Jessiee (there's a whole thing about the spelling of her name). It was hard to internalize the age difference due to Valdez's sheer size and his character's relative emotional stability. (A similar dynamic was at play in the infamous case of Mary Kay Letourneau.) I was only reminded of Kahekili's age when Jessiee would pause during some sun-drenched moment and upbraid herself about it. Abba's comedic sensibilities are extraordinary, and the language Jung gives her is charming, surprising, and occasionally quite beautiful—and also lightly obscene. The characters joke about the age difference constantly: "You're too old to be my mother," Kahekili says at one point.
Would I feel sympathetic if the genders and sizes were reversed? I don't think so. I think I would hate the man and decry the unfair power dynamics. Which makes it interesting, complicated art. Its theme is that seeking "happiness" is a perverse human endeavor.
The other reason you should see this is because of Nabilah Ahmed's performance. She plays a ukulele-strumming Puckish figure who narrates and plays bit characters. She's so talented and poised and funny and in control of her body that I kept being blown away by her casual brilliance—and you will be, too. Note to casting directors of Seattle: Give this person jobs and money.