Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Runaways -- Not Your Typical High School Musical

It's not often that you wake up the morning after a high school theater performance thinking about the play and feeling like you would get more out of it if you could see it a second time.  Cut to North Broward Prep's rendition of the 1984 play The Runaways.   I went to see the play because my niece is a member of the cast and my nephew plays guitar in the band.  (One of the advantages of moving to Florida is being able to do this type of duty--and I have to admit that I expected that I would be sitting in the auditorium smiling occasionally as Elizabeth appeared on stage but generally wishing that I was at home watching the Yankees lose their chance at a repeat.)   I didn't know anything about the play other than the general theme of runaway kids and that both the theater program and the school at large had gone to some lengths to expose students and their families to the very adult issues that teens can face.  The cast of the play spent an afternoon docket session at a juvenile court and had a workshop with a therapist who deals with "survival" issues and the school sponsored an evening talk for students and their families with a panel that included a recovering heroin addict, a woman who suffered from an eating disorder and a gay child and parent. 

The play consists of a number of songs and monologues that tell the stories of why teens run away from home and what happens when they do.  There is no real narrative, so each vignette stands on its own.  Not surprisingly, some were more powerful and effective than others.  "I Went Back Home" tells a heart wrenching tale of a child who returns home after ten days only for his parents to turn the TV up louder when he tries to talk to them.  (The parents actually do worse things, but this was the the most striking action in some ways.)  "Spoons" tells the story of a child who grew up in an orphanage and threw his spoon at the wall while eating in an attempt to get attention.  It seemed like a small step from there to using a spoon as a prop in his heroin addicted life.  And in "Song of a Child Prostitute," you hear about a 13 year old runaway who is proud of her place as the number one lady in her pimp's life.   Other vignettes did not work as well.  Take "Appendectomy" in which a pseudo doctor is treating a girl for appendicitis and finds bruises on her back.  This actually sounds more powerful here than it was in the performance, which was extremely abstract.  My nephew tells me that the appendectomy was a "huge metaphor for the pain" the teen was suffering from.  OK, then.  Or "Spanish Argument" which was, in fact, an argument in Spanish.  I appreciate the intention behind this, but if you don't speak Spanish, you didn't really get the import. 

The play was extremely avant garde and no doubt would have fit in well at an Off Broadway venue.   I did a bit of research and learned that The Runaways was developed in 1984 by a writer who sought out teens in shelters and on the streets to hear their stories.  The original cast actually included some of the runaways, an amazing thought.   I am proud of North Broward for tackling this project.  With all of the work that goes into these productions, why not do something that will stay with both the cast and the audience rather than yet another rendition of Grease or Once Upon a Mattress?

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