The newest play from The Doppler Effect is Touch written by Annie Valentina, a poignant story about two cousins coming of age and exploring their sexualities under the oppressive and scrutinizing shadow of Junior High. Touch plays until July 22 at the Bus Stop Theatre as part of the 2012 Queer Acts Festival.
Fran Beecham is fourteen, she has a crush on her math teacher, she loves baby kittens and she plays soccer on her school’s team. Her younger cousin and best friend is Liddy, who is twelve, with a hyper exuberance for fun, an idolizing innocence for Fran and a deep secret that threatens to ostracize her from everyone.
When Fran stumbles into popularity, something she has always craved, all her priorities shift and she becomes obsessed with fitting in with the crowd, protecting her well-rehearsed facade and she slowly slips deeper into insecurity and self-loathing. Liddy, on the other hand, is pulled toward expressing her authentic self and her true feelings, even if it means being bullied by her schoolmates or even abandoned by the person she looks up to the most.
The result is heart wrenching. Valentina has created a beautiful friendship and deep connection between these girls, rooting them both in terrific age-appropriate language that teeters between the free-throwing teases of childhood and the biting judgments that follow. We want better for Liddy, for her goodness to usurp Fran’s need to conform, but, as in life, Fran’s own insecurities and doubts lead to her lash out at her cousin, attempting to tear Liddy down and destroy her self-esteem to maintain the status quo.
Annie Valentina plays Fran very organically, never straining to behave too much like a “teenager” as to turn her into a caricature, but instead leading from her heart. Her manipulation of Liddy is subtle and the power dynamics between the two girls remain fragile throughout. Valentina’s chemistry with Keelin Jack, who plays Liddy, is magical and when the two laugh, letting their inner children flutter out, the joy that emanates off the stage is powerful and contagious. Jack gives a wonderful performance as Liddy, often betraying massively complex emotions in the shimmer of an eye or the twitch of a slight smile. Her vulnerability and the inability to articulate her massive frustration is so compelling I found myself wanting to protect and empower her, to give her the love and acceptance she desperately seeks from Fran.
Michael McPhee directs the piece with a great sense of intensity and pacing, even through the passage of large amounts of time. He really allows Valentina and Jack’s natural dynamic to flourish and pushes them to the breaking point, deep under each other’s skin, to great effect.
There are a few instances in Touch where I feel like Fran adheres perhaps too closely to the Junior High 1980s sitcom cliché we grew up with. I like that she represents a sort of “every girl,” while Liddy’s individuality shines through, that her personality is so malleable, and it is comforting to see familiar experiences in “Melanie and Samantha” and the transition from soccer shorts to miniskirts that are quite universal in Western culture, but since so much of this story is so original and specific to Francine Ann Beecham, I would have liked to see more in her particular world of Junior High that was distinctly hers.
In all, Touch is a poignant story well acted and sadly relevant in today’s culture of bullying and conformity. It is a great play to take young people to and sure to stir up some discussion. Don’t miss it.
Touch plays at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) as part of the Queer Acts Festival until Sunday, July 22 at the following times:
July 20th, 6pm
July 21st, 6pm
July 22nd, 9pm
Tickets are $10.00/$12.00. For more information or to book your tickets, please visit this website.