Ever feel like the paragon of sex appeal one minute and a disgusting ogre the next? Ever want to crawl inside someone’s skin you love them so much, only to decide you’d rather crawl into a hole? Ever feel so self-conscious you were sure your skin was see-through? You have, you know, even if you don’t remember. You were about 16.
In their latest startlingly genuine, genre-defying production, Proximity Theatre Company zeroes in on adolescence — specifically, the attendant internal turmoil. At just 40 minutes long, Teen Age is nevertheless an epic journey beneath the skin of six girls and one boy who stand both for themselves as individuals and for the universal experiences of teen-hood: the beauty, the yearning, the horror, and the heartbreak.
Dressed in high-waisted denim shorts and white tees (long pants for the solo male), these seven appear at first asleep on the gallery floor, which doubles nicely as a petite black-box theater. A dreamy, disembodied female voice reverberates off the walls as they wake, rise, and face the audience. “Here are their beautiful bodies,” she intones as they stand squarely, holding their arms away from their sides and rotating slowly, like dolls in a display case.
As is typical of Proximity productions, Teen Age relies on the dramatic potential of the human body for storytelling; there’s little in the way of set or props, and you don’t miss them. Against the exciting aural backdrop of Ken Urbina’s original electronic music, the performers cling to each other and tear themselves apart, slap the floor repeatedly, and reach their arms overhead like giant toddlers asking to be scooped up to safety.
All of this would be affecting enough were adults to play the roles of teens. Instead, it’s teens themselves, ranging from age 12 to 16, who represent their own experience of overwhelming desires — and the desire to repress them.
Think about that for a second. Take yourself back to your high school years. There’s a physical theater company in town. The director wants you to stand onstage with nothing to hide behind, run your fingers up the length of your inner arm, stick out your tongue, and act like a crazy person, which is pretty close to the way you actually feel inside. Would you take that risk?
Therein lies the greatest magic of this production and of Proximity’s work to date: Not only are these young people willing to be as vulnerable and exposed as director Kyra Lehman asks them to be; they’re positively hungry for it.