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Katherine Bourne and Kyle Lemieux in rehearsal for \"Jailbait\"

Review: Jailbait | Dallas Actors Lab | Bath House Cultural Center


Affair of the Heart

Dallas Actor's Lab returns with a solid production of Jailbait, Deidre O'Connor's table-turning play about sexual impropriety, and maturity.



published Thursday, August 29, 2013

The first scene of Deirdre O'Connor's Jailbait, given an area premiere by Dallas Actor's Lab at the Bath House Cultural Center, sets the stage for a story we know too well and should induce creeps for anyone who's not a perv.

Two high school girls, Emmy (Mikaela Krantz) and Claire (Katherine Bourne), discuss the men that Emmy has set them up with—two older menand the club where they'll meet. Emmy, the one who wants to sound more grown-up and promiscuous than she is, calls the shots. The guys will never know their true ages, and Claire will transform into a Harvard student. They have the scenario ready to play out.

Then we get to the club. Mark (Jeff Swearingen) is a relationship-phobe who will hook up with Emmy, and he has dragged his heartbroken friend Robert (Kyle Lemieux) to convince him to get back on the horse. But Robert, a shy romantic, finds a different chemistry with Claire than he expected. It's a good vibe, helped by Claire's maturity.

The two couples eventually pair off (the whole play is done with scenes between two actors), and the outcome is not what you expect. O'Connor turns the tables on what could have been a creepy narrative similar to all of the ones that followed Lolita, but didn't have the skill of a Nabokov to make it something other than a misogynistic tale of a scheming young girl out to use her sexuality to cause the downfall of the men around her. The blame-game in a sexual predator/prey story is handily avoided. It also steers clear, thankfully, of any kind of After School Special-type moralizing.

The production's success owes much to direction of Dylan Key and his cast, all of whom walk the balance beam of their respective roles without bobbling. Swearingen makes Mark a fraction of the douchebag he could have been, or that we might expect from this type of character, and it helps that O'Connor doesn't rely on archetypes for any of these roles. Lemieux paints a portrait of a good, smart man who really wants to move on from his recent breakup, even if he knows it's going to take a long time. With the show's big reveal, the torture in his facial expression says volumes.

Krantz gets the most Lolita-like role, and although some slut-shaming happens (from her peer), the turnaround at the end is sweet and thoughtful. The biggest task lies in the care of the actress playing Claire, who has to convince that should could be of an age to make all of this possible. Bourne looks the part, but also conveys O'Connors intention, that a teenage girl capable of emotional complexity. Claire is wise beyond her years, but that doesn't exempt her from the intensified feelings that hurricane in a heart of someone this age, when love and sex and romance is a scary but exciting frontier.

Tim Rothwell's scenic design, which goes from teenage girl's bedroom (stuffed animals decorate the stage) to nightclub to adult man's apartment without much fuss, is genius, aided by the intimate tennis-court set up at the Bath House, where the audience can be mere inches from the performers. Add to that Janet Berka's mood-setting and dim lighting and Clare Kapusta's spot-on costumes. In particular, Claire's club outfit works for the character's age (her real one and the one she's playing) and the line in which she declares herself “a Carrie,” referring to Sex and the City. Also, kudos to DJ DIK for the original club music in the background, audible but never distracting (sound design by Key).

Not that Dallas Actor's Lab could have prepared for this, but it's interesting how events in pop culture and the news in the days between the two weekends of the show's run might affect your feelings about this play—or at least make it even easier to appreciate. Namely, the slut-shaming of former teen princess Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards. Yes, it was an awful number; but really, would there have been that much outcry if, say, a shirtless Usher had humped a mike stand to death?

When it comes to sexuality, the double standard for men and women is ridiculous. Jailbait offers another perspective on that topic, and does it beautifully. As a follow-up to DAL's first production in 2011 (an excellent staging of David Mamet's debatably misogynistic Oleanna, which also deals with an inappropriate sexual dynamic), here's hoping we don't have to wait another two years for this group to return. Thanks For Reading





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Affair of the Heart
Dallas Actor's Lab returns with a solid production of Jailbait, Deidre O'Connor's table-turning play about sexual impropriety, and maturity.
by Mark Lowry

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