Breathless With Self-Absorption: all of what you love and none of what you hate

Girl B (Tristan Cunningham, left) and Girl A (Britney Frazier, right) talk on the phone. (Ken Levin)

Language fails Girl A (Britney Frazier) for the better part of Phillip Howze’s play all of what you love and none of what you hate. She’s the unnamed teenager who sits at the center of the melodrama. Before the house lights dim, she sits on the edge of the stage, a circular platform, and pulls her lavender hoodie over her head. She effectively silences herself and hides her face from the audience. If a sculptor had captured her posture in that moment, the finished piece would be called “Despair.”

The set design initially gives us clues as to what the problem is: her bedroom is upside down. A lamp, a table, her bed, they’re all suspended above the stage on wires. It looks like the aftermath of a traumatic event, an earthquake or its human equivalent — an adolescent’s unleashed temper tantrum. Something’s happened in her room and everything’s about to come crashing down.

The play begins though with a splashy entrance by Girl B (Tristan Cunningham). She sashays onto the floor, cell phone in hand, calling to check in with Girl A. The production relies heavily on technology to provide narrative shortcuts for the characters and their backstories. Television screens also hang down from the rafters to supplement the monologues. Girl B’s begins with a summary of her likes and dislikes, as images of her digital life appear on screen.

At first, Girl B comes across as A’s best friend. Then she rapidly unloads her daily anecdotes without drawing her friend out of her silence. As B is written, she is a character who carries pride and arrogance in equal measure. Pride in her religious, ethnic and female identity, as well as her intelligence, charisma and wit. Like that poem by Walt Whitman, B expresses a song of herself. It comes through in her confident strut. Her youth, however, also corrodes that pride until it turns into an unforgiving arrogance. It cuts out compassion for anyone who isn’t as flawless as she is.

Girl A (Britney Frazier)’s world ruptures around her.
Girl A (Britney Frazier)’s world ruptures around her (Ken Levin).

Girl A’s mother (Indiia Wilmott) also enters the fray. She too is breathless with self-absorption. A single mom with two girls, the essence of Mother’s life is boiled down to her personal ad and her hope for a new man. Wilmott gives her a charming, bubbly presence and the play would have benefitted from exploring her dilemma in depth. She is a reasonably strict parent who wants a life outside of being a mother. If her daughter isn’t going to open up, she’s not going to sit at home all night waiting for what could be a routine sulk to end.

 With the arrival of the indifferent Boy (Cameron Matthews), A’s problem, evident from the start, is spelled out: she’s pregnant. The playwright surrounds her with these three characters who can’t stop talking. They can’t make room in their psyches for the troubled A. And when she finally has a meltdown, the only place she can turn to for help is the Internet. It’s the ultimate sign of isolation.

In this lonely state, her demons come out to haunt her. The house lights dim and the three figures who were her only sense of psychological support, transform and turn on her. Accompanied by flashing lights and a thudding soundtrack, they torment A like eldritch figures from a fairy tale. And then without warning, they’re cast out and A finds her voice. She delivers a passionate monologue filled with a newly found strength and determination.

But this voice isn’t hers and doesn’t belong to a teenage girl in this particular situation. The ending expands beyond A, who is reduced to being a stand-in for all girls who feel voiceless and powerless. Rhetorically speaking, it sounds convincing. On an emotional level, it doesn’t. Why establish A’s relationship to B, to Mother, to Boy at all if a kind of anti-realism was the point. If only Girl A had been given a name. This might have provided her, and the audience, with one girl’s specific voice, and not the impression that part of the story remained untold.

all of what you love and none of what you hate, through Sept. 25, at The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., 415-677-9596, sfplayhouse.org/sfph.

View Comments