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The Theatreguide.London Review

Bush Theatre      Spring 2006

An earlier version of this play appeared at the 2004 Edinburgh fringe, when I wrote this about it:

American Catherine Trieschmann's lovely little play is a moving and comic salute to adolescence and that moment in a girl's life when questions of sex, friendship, faith, and rebellion are almost overwhelming, and the most loving and understanding of mothers is confusingly both refuge and foe.

When mother and daughter move to small town Mississippi, the very sensitive child's combination of quick mind and social insecurity compounds her disorientation. Overwhelmed at making her first female friend, she announces that she must be a lesbian; visiting her first Pentecostal church, she is in a rush to be saved.

 Her mother does her best to keep up with all this, but has demons of her own to conquer.

If at moments the daughter seems a bit too eloquent for a fourteen-year-old, the mother a bit too patient and understanding, and the friend too obviously a plot device, these are acceptable fictions in the service of the play's poetic and psychological truths, which are rich, warm and satisfying throughout.

The American actress who played the central character won an acting award for capturing that quality, but little of the lovely innocence that made the play such a discovery is to be found in this new production.

The author's revisions, along with the new cast and new director, have changed the tone and focus of the play. It is now considerably darker, a play less about the sweetness of being fourteen than about the very real pain.

The text, the central performance by Amanda Hale and the direction of Mike Bradwell all underline the sources and extent of the girl's unhappiness.

She is coping badly with her father's succumbing to mental illness, her mother's divorce, the move to a new town, and the disfiguring twisted back (which we're assured is temporary) brought on by tension.

That back problem, which gives the play its title, had seemed vaguely irrelevant in the earlier version, but here it, and the girl's other sources of pain, are stressed as the instigators of her search for friendship or religion.

And what had seemed then to be rather charming and naive bits of adolescent self-discovery are now frantic attempts at escape from her fears of permanent physical and mental impairment.

Though Amanda Hale too infrequently succeeds in seeming to be anything but an adult actress trying to play an adolescent, she does capture the girl's most painful moments.

The play's change in tone also means that for long stretches she is reduced to straight man to Suzan Sylvester as her sympathetic mother and Debbie Chazen as her not-very-bright new friend, with each of them getting more of the play's lighter touches and carrying them adroitly.

Clearly this moving study in adolescent pain, even in partly successful form, is closer to the author's intentions than the rather sweet celebration of adolescent innocence we saw two years ago, but I hope she will forgive me for preferring that one to this.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Crooked - Bush  Theatre 2006


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