Review: American premiere of ‘Truck Stop’ by Lachlan Philpott at Crowded Fire Theater (***)

by Barry David Horwitz
Rating: *****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Enter two 14 year old girls in school uniforms. They are rolling on the ground and having a vicious fight in the schoolyard. They are Sam and Kelly. We soon find out that lanky, angular, sharp-tongued Sam embodies the psychological term “acting out.” Jessica Lynn Carroll gives a boundlessly obscene and brilliantly raunchy portrayal of Sam, portraying all the new nastiness and insecurity of a young teen. Carroll’s Sam has been captured by popular culture, international adolescent rebellion, and her own reactive cruel streak. Out of her mouth comes a stream of vituperation, hatred, and insecurity that takes us beneath the surface of our middle class adult lives. These are girls from the streets of a lifeless, arid suburb. They are working class girls who have no respect or love for any adult or friend. Sam lives to please her “boyfriend” Trevor, until she suddenly turns on him, too. She is hateful, hated, and adrift, enslaved to trends, videos, and pervy fads.

From L to R:: Sam (Jessica Lynn Carroll) and Kelly (Chelsea Looy) are confused adolescents in the American premiere of Lachlan Phillpott's "TRruck Stop" at Crowded Fire Theater. Photo Credit: mellopix.com.
From L to R:: Sam (Jessica Lynn Carroll) and Kelly (Chelsea Looy) are confused adolescents in the American premiere of Lachlan Phillpott’s “TRruck Stop” at Crowded Fire Theater. Photo Credit: mellopix.com.

Her friend Kelly, played by a wonderfully interior Chelsea Looy, will go along with whatever Sam tells her to do. In fact, she goes beyond Sam’s mere fantasies to act them out herself. She needs Sam’s approval, because, as we soon find out, she has had some rough handling from her absent, abusive father and remote, spaced out Mum.

“Truck Stop,” by Australian writer Lachlan Phillpot, charts Sam’s manipulation of the inward looking, pliable, and dependent Kelly. They are part of a threesome called “SKANK,” which has lost one friend but is about to become a threesome again. They reluctantly add Aisha, a new girl at the parochial school, who comes from a traditional Indian background. Aisha becomes another target of cynicism and curses for Sam, who immediately ridicules her with the nickname “Curry.”.

Jessica Lynn Carroll’s piercing portrayal of Sam is a tour de force of “some nasty shit.” Chelsea Looy as Kelly provides a clear portrait of a girl’s inward conflict and terrible exploitation. They remind us of the shooters at Colombine, a doomed pair who reflect the world around them. Kelly struggles to keep up with her powerful friend, and winds up in serious trouble at the local truck stop. They start out doing “dares” and taking on sexual challenges, urged on by modern icons and suggestive music, imagining they are acting in a music video or a movie. Their dreams are projected on a stunning back-lit screen in the form of dancing  silhouettes. The shadows are brought to life in white light — a beautiful job of scene and light design by Maya Linke and Andrew Lu. Tthe huge concrete playground wall with weeds sprouting out becomes the screen for the popular image of the dancing girl with i-phone who embodies their fetishized longing for sex and popularity.

The pressures on the Australian girls are the same as those in the U.S., though the girls are perhaps a bit more naïve — but, put upon by parents, authorities, music lyrics, and corrupted values they seem adrift in a world of exploitation, and they act out like hell both internally and externally. The third actor, Jeri Lynn Cohen, plays an “the adults” profoundly and slyly, taking on multiples roles as teacher, therapist, doctor, boyfriend, and lackadaisical Mom to Kelly. Cohen sometimes wears a hoodie to embody the boys. Her performance suggests how girls are treated by parents and doctors in modern life, much to their detriment.

The adult figures and the boyfriends can be helpful and sympathetic, but for most of their suffering struggles, the two girls reject all attempts to reach them. Phillipot gives us an insightful and grim snapshot of girls in trouble, and a world in crisis. We find ourselves in the stew with these exploited girls. The play lets us identify and understand the consequences of a commercialized sexuality and a fetishized female underclass. Even when we try to reach them, but we are also the cause of their suffering. If we listen very closely, we can hear what they are telling us.

“Truck Stop” by Lachlan Philpott plays at at Thick House through October 24, 2015. For further information click here.

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“Truck Stop” by Lachlan Philpott. Director:Marilee Talkington. Ass’t. Director: Brady Brophy-Hilton. Dramaturg: Laura Brueckner. Scenic Design: Maya Linke. Lighting: Andrew Lu. Sound: Brendan Aanes. Props: Devon La Belle. Fights: Carla Pantoja. Costume: Miriam R. Lewis.

 Cast:

Sam: Jessica Lynn Carroll. Kelly: Chelsea Looy. Aisha: Jamie Asdorian. The Adults: Jeri Lynn Cohen.

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