All parents know that at some point somebody's going to say a mean thing about their kids, doubtless more than once. And if they're on social media, somebody's going to say something mean about them online. When that happens, clearly the only responsible thing to do is cyberstalk that other person and try to ruin her life. Wait, what?
This case study in parenting gone severely awry comes to us courtesy of Crystal Springs, a self-produced world premiere by Bay Area playwright Kathy Rucker at San Francisco's Eureka Theatre. Loosely inspired by true stories, it's a grim drama for six women that unfolds in reverse chronological order. While that's an intriguing approach, it also means that the more shocking revelations are all at the beginning of the play, and the rest is just filling in the blanks about who pissed off whom and how.
The basic premise is similar to Carlos Murillo's 2005 play Dark Play or Stories for Boys, which Do It Live! Productions performed at San Francisco's Exit Theatre last year: Someone creates a fake profile to seduce an acquaintance online as a cruel prank, which goes horribly awry. But while in Dark Play the experiment is a sociopathic whim, in Crystal Springs it's equal parts petty revenge and misguided overprotectiveness.
Rucker's play is given a sleek and stripped-down staging by British director Anna Jordan, who'll also direct it in September at London's Park Theatre. Dominated by a large video screen, the minimal set is made up of several plain gray blocks against a plain gray wall. The rest of the cast sits on the blocks in the background and watches silently when not in a particular scene. Mark Jenkins' projection design accompanies each scene with a still image of some background detail, such as two coffee cups or one arm of a couch, and sound designer Brendan Aanes subtly accentuates the atmosphere with faint crowd murmurs or muffled music from down the street.
Marissa Keltie is particularly powerful as Haley, the depressed misfit teenager who suddenly finds herself the victim of online abuse. Siobhan FitzGerald is sullen and secretive in a fairly normal high school way as Jenna, Haley's sometime best friend. Judging from the way their moms interact, that friendship may have lasted only a matter of weeks; it's hard to know.
Both parents are overprotective in their own way. Amy Prosser's touchingly haunted Rose heavily restricts her daughter's online access even before any of the actual drama happens, knowing she's had some kind of unspecified issues in the past. Sally Clawson's Linda is so brittle and closed-off early in the play that it's a shock to see how folksy and easygoing she is in the past, if also easily offended. In fact, it's surprising how little she seems to care about the online gossip about her daughter when it first comes up, considering how she'll later consider herself some kind of fierce mama bear protecting her cub.
Always hanging around Linda is Mia, her employee in some vague home business, played by Susan Shay as severely introverted and way too eager to please. Heather Robison is full of ill-concealed discomfort as a reporter covering the story of how the whole vendetta went terribly wrong.
The play has been expanded from an earlier 40-minute version to an hour long, but it might have more impact if it were fleshed out further. The characters are roughly sketched, and we're given just the barest impressions of them and their relationships before we move on to the next vignette. (In particular we don't know enough about Mia or the reporter to understand why they're in the play.) I wouldn't have known that the ending was the ending had not someone presumably involved with the show started clapping the millisecond the lights dimmed.
It may be that fealty to the reverse-time structure makes it difficult to really delve into what's going on rather than just introduce it. We don't witness any of the actual online harassment, for instance, just the brainstorming of it and the aftermath. The revelations in later scenes are trivial compared to what we learn at the outset, and maybe that's the point: that such petty slights and innocuous misdemeanors can blow up into something horrible. In any case, that would be an interesting point to explore.
Crystal Springs runs through March 23, 2014 at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit crystalspringstheplay.com.
All photos by David Allen.