CCM‘s Very Dumb Kids Are Brilliant

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Very Dumb Kids: CCM Acting

Friends gathered over the Fourth of July weekend. It is a time when relationships are tested, secrets revealed, and decisions made. This particular holiday weekend has been the backdrop for many plays, such as Terrance McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart and Lanford Wilson’s Talley Trilogy.

A Fourth of July weekend spent in an old farmhouse in western Massachusetts is the setting for a bold new venture from CCM Acting (formerly CCM Drama), New York playwright Gracie Gardner’s Very Dumb Kids.

Specifically commissioned for CCM Acting (the first such commission by CCM Acting), this play had a workshop production last year around this time in which a very different version of the script was presented. Much to Gardner’s credit, she did a major script overhaul by streamlining dialogue and rearranging scenes to make it easier to follow the progression of the different characters.

Very Dumb Kids follows a group of twenty-something friends recently graduated from college who deal with the death of their friend Sarah (Lauren Carter), who dies unexpectedly while on a mission trip to Libya. Left to pick up the pieces are her friends, the mourning Phoebe (Jacqueline Daaleman), her absent boyfriend Austin (Isaac Hickson-Young), and an assorted cast of characters who deal with the death in different ways.

As befits an ensemble piece, all the actors did an outstanding job working off of each other and acting like they’ve been friends for years—which they have been, since they have been in CCM classes and shows together for years.

Jacqueline Daaleman played the part of the needy and neurotic Phoebe to perfection, who is devastated by the loss of her close friend Sarah. Lauren Carter was strong as both Sarah and Carrie, the “very dumb kid” killed in Libya and the girl Sarah’s boyfriend Austin becomes engaged to after Sarah’s death. Also strong was Carter Lacava as Peter, the hapless and eye-infected Latin teacher, and Nicholas Heffelfinger as Nolan, the opportunist trying to hit up his friends for money to fund his app.

Director Brant Russell does a fine job guiding the actors through the overlapping dialogue and missed opportunities which these characters continually find themselves in.

Russell did an especially fine job with the opening scene in which all the actors are speaking at different times over the dining room table. It was a bit of a challenge to figure out relationships, but that was the point behind Gardner’s overlapping dialogue (an earlier draft was written on an Excel spreadsheet to keep straight when actors were supposed to overlap their lines). Russell turns this seeming cachophony into coherence—a pretty mean feat.

The scenic designer, CCM student Karly Hasselfeld, created a compelling set of rooms which function as the front rooms and bedrooms of the farm house. The combination of faded weather-beaten décor acted as the perfect backdrop for what happens onstage.

Overall, Very Dumb Kids was an enjoyable evening of theater. My only complaint was its length. Running at 1 hour 45 minutes, it felt like it could have had an intermission without losing any of its momentum. A special treat was that the playwright herself was present at the opening performance Thursday evening and had a talkback after that performance.

For more information on CCM Acting, go to http://CCM.uc.edu/theatre/drama.html. and You can find information on next season’s CCM Acting productions, as well as other information related to the program.

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