In the Forest, She Grew Fangs, written by Stephen Spotswood and produced by The Washington Rogues, is a dark journey into the adolescent psyche. As an audience we are taken on a wild ride through the minds and hearts of several teenagers growing-up in small town America. While these teenagers may at first seem typical, they end up being all but average in a thrilling twist that has audience members on the edge of their seats. Spotswood’s language is lyrical and poetic, and manages to delicately balance the tough and relevant subject matter of bullying with priceless comedic timing and moments of levity.
Although the play leads us to an inevitably dark end it is thankfully peppered with humor and guarantees riotous laughter throughout. We identify with the teens as we have lived the moments that they describe and recount in painful detail. One particularly amusing moment is when the savvy city transplant, Jenny, describes how local football player, Hunter, asked her out. Spotswood so accurately captures the awkward moments of teenage and frankly adult courting rituals, that we are left guffawing even as the darker moments of the text are highlighted. The cast does an incredible job throughout of committing to the fast-paced and complex writing.
The production of this piece is well-timed, as October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 20% of students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying. The text covers all aspects of bullying and also focuses on what might happen when a victim has had enough.
The Rogues production is far more intriguing than a PSA to stop bullying. Yes, this is subject matter, but the method of delivery is fascinating. Actors are at their core storytellers and the story that this company tells is entertaining and impactful. “The monsters were never able to get her” is a refrain we hear from the top of the show as Lucy, played by Megan Graves, introduces us to her dreams. These are the dreams that protect her and help her cope with life as a “no one” who is bullied in school. Megan does an incredible job of bringing Spotswood’s text to life and driving the action of the scene. She also manages to painfully and accurately capture the awkwardness of adolescence.
Aided by the skillful work of Director Ryan S. Taylor, the entire ensemble is captivating to watch. From the character of Jenny (Jenny Donovan), an attractive teen who can’t seem to find her way beyond the slut/bitch stereotype, to the formerly overweight jock named Hunter (Luke Cieslewicz), who was once bullied himself because, “You do not get a free pass in middle school if you’re a dude with tits.” The characters are real and touching and we identify with their longing to fit in and feel loved. With crafty one-liners like, “What is this in my hair, fish shit?” Spotswood manages to carefully balance the intense moments of the play such as a suicide attempt with some much-needed humor.
There is one adult character in the play, Ruth, played by Jane Petkofsky, who adds a nice balance to the charged up teen angst. We see the history of the town as told through her eyes and come to understand that as in life, history tends to repeat itself. Megan Behm, Natalie Cutcher, and Anna Lathrop round out the ensemble functioning as a near Greek Chorus of bullies swooping in to torture their latest victims.
The ending of the piece is quite a surprise and makes us think about what would happen if the victim became the bully. We are left asking questions like: Where was the breaking point for this teen? Was this destined to happen? And we think of the fable told at the beginning of the play about a violent crime that took place near the lake years before.
An intense and somewhat disturbing production, In the Forest, She Grew Fangs, is a ‘must see’ for those interested in Little Red Riding Hood with a twist, or folks who just want to see a well-crafted piece of theatre. Watch your step on the way out!
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.