Some people remember their high school fondly as formative years where lifelong friendships formed. However, just under that superficial gloss, there sometimes lies a painful, broken world of childhood trauma, bullying, and assault; sometimes even propagated by the very people we call friends. The Head That Wears the Crown, written by Hope Villanueva and directed by Megan Behm takes us deep into the very uncomfortable reality bubbling under the surface of too many high schools.
Set in 2009, the play follows best friends Anisa (Marley Kabin), Carolynn (Lori Pitt), and Bethanie (Julieta Gozalo) embarking on their senior year of high school. When shy newcomer Danielle (Danielle Scott) joins the school, she makes fast friends with the trio. As the Winter Ball approaches and Bethanie hopes to be crowned Winter Ball queen, a rift in the group forms when Danielle begins dating Bethanie’s ex-boyfriend (Jonathan Miot).
The “perfect” revenge plot develops as the three childhood friends pretend to be Danielle online and convince a creepy loner from the school (also played by Jonathan Miot) that Danielle is interested in a physical relationship. What follows is disturbing and affects each member of the group in a different way.
Director Megan Behm stages a fast-paced production with multiple scene changes performed by the cast. Behm makes great use of the intimate playing space, often staging scenes on top of each other.
Marley Kabin plays the complex character of Anisa beautifully. Kabin’s Anisa is sympathetic, making her betrayal of Danielle so much harder to stomach. Even when Anisa is delighted, Kabin shades Anisa’s joy with tones of melancholy.
Lori Pitts’s Carolynn is the leader of the pack. She is tough as nails, and practical, handling heavy themes like eating disorders and miscarriage with great finesse. Pitt lets the malicious nature of Carolynn manifest early on in small ways, while still balancing Carolynn’s constant need for the perfect life, even at the expense of happiness.
Julieta Gozalo is unforgettable as Bethanie. Like all of Villanueva’s characters, Bethanie’s perfect life is only skin-deep, and Gozalo provides a very genuine feeling to a girl who uses high school politics as a coping mechanism for troubling home issues. Gozalo navigates the character’s age change from the first half to the second half incredibly well, growing from submissive to her friends, to ambivalent without any feeling of emotional whiplash.
Danielle Scott’s performance as Danielle was stunning and a standout in the already wonderful ensemble. Scott takes the trope of the “nerdy girl who doesn’t know that she’s pretty and men love her” and makes it feel fresh and believable. She lets the aftermath of the assault slowly burn through the second act in a truly nauseating and upsetting fashion, but it is the hopeful air that she brings to every scene that makes Danielle the most compelling character.
Jonathan Miot, who plays all the men in the show, has lots of quick changes in the first half of the play and only has time to differentiate characters with minor changes to costumes (by Noni Ford). Miot transforms into different roles by altering his mannerisms and the cadence of his voice so well that I could always tell who he was playing. It takes a very good actor to portray such a variety of characters, and Miot makes it look easy.
I left the performance unsettled by what I saw. The assault (which is not shown) can feel a little overwhelming and hangs over every scene. Good theatre is about evoking emotion, and that makes The Head That Wears the Crown great theatre.
Content Warning: The performance contains mature themes such as sexual assault, self-harm, underage drinking, and eating disorders.
Running Time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission