Dallas — Repetition is sometimes a sign of poor craft in any art form, including writing, but it can also be a powerful device. Think of Ravel’s glorious Bolero or certain artwork by Andy Warhol and Chuck Close.
Repetition is a building block for Shut Up and Listen, a theater piece devised by teenage performers for the second production by Cry Havoc Theater Company, running through Saturday, Jan. 16 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park. The results are cunningly chaotic—just like the lives of teens.
Director Mara Richards Bim and associate director Shelby-Allison Hibbs worked with the teens for weeks as they created the show based on their own everyday experiences and their relationships with each other and The Other—a.k.a. adults.
The 70-minute show begins with the ensemble members sauntering onstage and sitting in a row of wooden chairs, each a different style and design. Interactions that happen in high school, maybe in the cafeteria, gymnasium bleachers or waiting for the bus, manifest: From casual personal space invasion to bullying to flirting to fighting to singing lyrics from “Bohemian Rhapsody” to playing dodgeball and other games. The kids gradually popcorn out from the chairs until the cast— Trinity Gordon, Daniel Hinton, Romeo Hosein, Lilia Houser, Regina Juarez, Lucky Lawhorn II, Cara Lawson, Shamaraye McQueen, De’Aveyon Murphy, Elijah Rice, Jesus “Jeezy” Sena—uses the entire thrust stage, the aisles and a few times, the audience. Some are on the floor, others skate or dance by. For the fight, a boxing ring is created.
After about six or seven minutes of that, an alarm sounds and the kids exit. That alarm sounds like a danger warning at a nuclear power plant, but could represent the alarm clock that wakes us from dreams pleasant, scary and more often than not, inexplicable.
The kids reemerge for the same sequence of events.
This time, it’s a little different. And the next time, more different. They repeat the basic scenario nearly 10 times, and it gets a little more helter-skelter or surreal each time. One scene is a bouncy version set to Young M.C.’s “Bust a Move,” and another uses balletic grace and clumsiness to music from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. In one, they’re inebriated or high. Another time, they’re hungover. One is sans women (which is indeed a scary world). Costumes, wigs and props are added and used in clever ways, and vary with each new iteration. Other songs smartly used include The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” (Sound design by John M. Flores.)
If you think the play is weird, well, you were warned of that in the prologue. In fact, the first line is “this play is weird.”
That’s kind of the point. But it’s not weird for the sake of being weird. There’s focus in this madness that is both admirable and stunning. Credit movement advisor Dean Wray for doing just that—advising—but it’s obvious that this work has been choreographed and shaped by these talented kids.
Injecting power are the occasional monologues spoken to the audience, the only text in this mostly wordless piece. Those are written by the actors in their angsty and honest voices. They acknowledge they’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to invite trouble, and they’re going to learn. But that part can come later.
“I have to learn these things on my own; let me find my way,” one says. Another implores: “You didn’t come out of a vagina at age 37 knowing what you know.”
Take it from someone who’s well past that age: Life doesn’t become easier to figure out decades into adulthood.
But who cares about that? Those of us who have been a teen might remember what it was like—the joys, the heartaches, the frustrations with rules and adults—but we’ll never be able to truly empathize because now we have the baggage that comes with adulting. It's a different kind of messy.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just Shut Up and Listen? And then Shut Up and Listen again? And again?