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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Keep Our Kids

Or: The View from the Bridge.

By Danielle Littman

How do you live your life? What mantra pumps with your pulse and blinks with the sparking of your neurons? You and I have missions to complete and standards to uphold and to hold ourselves to. We look at the world around us and cannibalize our environments and friends and families to help us make ourselves the people we want to be. There’s nothing wrong with this, its why we need our fellow humans, but we must always be willing to give a little and take notice and appreciation of those we feed off of. Because sometimes, without supervision our outside maintenance, our internal drives force us to make the saddest choices.

Tess (Anna Marr) a seventeen year old from Marin County, that beautiful country twixt earth, sea, and sky, is having a hard time sorting herself out. She has an excellent memory, a willing spirt and a desperate want to make something of herself: all ingredients for making a good kid. Yet she feels invisible, powerless, and purposeless. Her family has fragmented: her father is gone, her disappointing brother Eliot (Garret Baer) has drifted off to Portland and her Type A California Mother Caroline (Rengin Altay) is either too absorbed in her home hot yoga sessions or her psychiatry patients to give Tess the attentions that she needs (or perhaps Caroline’s just barricading herself in to cope with her own losses). To make matters worse her classmate, Rebecca Wilson, recently rushed to meet her death in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. Now Tess has thrown herself into working for the hopeful Mayor candidate, the rather scattered Barbara (Jenny Avery) and her extremely efficient campaign manager Adam (Matt Kuyawa). These two, seeking for something to vitalize their campaign, latch on to Rebecca’s story and the part that Tess played in it.

In collaboration with NEXT Theater company, Littman’s growing play, directed by AJ Links, offers a juicy evening of introspection. Tess’s Invisibility, and her malleability, allow Littman showcase numerous philosophies for us, from easygoing fatalism to Ryndish fanaticism, and the merits of each. That might sound dull, but believe me there are few things as thought provoking then theories of what way life is lead and what makes us the most happiest and best of people. Keep Our Children’s characters are not standings for their philosophies, and they never, with one slight slip on Tess’s part near the end, get preachy. They are living people with problems and short comings that just happen to believe whole heartedly in their various attitudes towards life. Littman also explores the ever pertinent topic of listening to each other, and how and why our ears are deaf to our loved ones lives.

Throughout the evening the play rotates between several plots, the Pygmalion transformation of Tess, her familial troubles, and the aftermath of Wilson’s death shadowed by her destroyed and desperate father (Mick Webber). Each of these plots, and each of the characters are crafted with great care and finesse, with lots for a cast to sink into. The dialogue brims with potent silences, authentic (as well as gleeful) divergencies and simple truths of human behavior. She also plucks the strung out tension in a mocking tune: we can track the mistakes Tess makes from inception to breaking point, palming our foreheads and mouthing ‘No! Noooooo! You foooool!’.

No play is perfect: the author does work some loose laces between Tess’s family and her coworkers that remain frustratingly untightened. Also her climax, after building with such gut wrenching grace and so many foreshadowing brushes seems remarkably easy to solve.

This evening’s cast let themselves wallow in the words and flow easily in the current stirred by the tragic events. Particular praise goes to Marr, for her complete transformation, in posture, voice, and manner, as well as allowing us to see some very bitter and personal struggles. Other accolades rest with Baer, always admirably pacing out his thoughts, Altay, for giving us a clear window on Caroline’s struggles, frustrations and neuroses, and Webber, who holds on to the deep and submerged anguish of Mr. Wilson and pulls it up piece by piece for us to weep over.

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