Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review of Steppenwolf for Young Adults' The Burn

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Burn. It was by Philip Dawkins and it was directed by Devon de Mayo. It was about a girl in high school named Mercedes (Phoebe González) who had just transferred schools and is being bullied by three girls Tara (Birgundi Baker), Andi (Nina Ganet), and Shauna (Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller). Mercedes is very religious and she has just lost her brother. They are putting on the play of The Crucible at their school, and Mercedes and Shauna both audition of their own accord. The other two bullies don't want to do the play, but they are forced to by their teacher (Erik Hellman). The dynamics in their relationships are already a lot like the ones in The Crucible, but you see more layers and you get closer to the characters of the accusers in this play. It is about bullying, power, and vulnerability. I think this is a fascinating and smart teen drama. I really liked it.

I think that the relationship Mercedes and her teacher Erik have is really sweet and kind of confusing. A lot of people may think that their relationship is based on the John Proctor-Abigail relationship in The Crucible because they read that scene and she is playing Abigail in the play. But their relationship isn't inappropriate. He seems to want to help her and finds her to be a very interesting person. She interacts with people in a very different way than anyone else does. I think he is trying to show her something new--the world of theater--that she hasn't experienced before. And she is trying to show him the way to heaven. They have ways of identifying with each other, but they have different things they want to teach other people. He wants to protect her because she has had such a hard time, but he also relates to her. We don't know a lot of his story, but we know that his family was very religious and now he isn't as religious anymore. Their relationship is not romantic, like the John Proctor-Abigail relationship, but it is still meaningful. It goes beyond what you expect from this relationship, but not in an inappropriate way.

There is not a single person in this play who hasn't made a bad decision, but you still have sympathy for them. Even the people who are bullying Mercedes have redeeming qualities. A lot of people think that Tara is an idiot because she doesn't try at school, but she actually understands a lot more things than they think. People think they can slip past her radar more than they actually can. She also has a pretty crappy family life and is living with her father and stepmother and her mother is neglectful and depressed it seems. Her mother might be literally insane, but Tara uses literally incorrectly a lot of times, so I'm not exactly sure. She is very clever and she is strong, but she just uses her strength for the wrong things and overreacts. Andi is in love with Tara and she wants to be the person that people think she should be. She likes basketball and sports, but she is acting like she comes from a disadvantaged background when she actually doesn't. But she is also just lovestruck and doesn't know what to do to make this person like her, so that makes me feel sorry for her. Shauna, even though she makes fun of Mercedes at first, when she actually has an interaction with Mercedes, she becomes friends with her. She is hiding a lot of parts of her personality from Tara and Andi; she actually likes to act and play video games. Once she figures out that when you are bullying someone online and think they don't even know about it, they are still an actual person with feelings and don't deserve to be treated otherwise, she stops bullying her and tells Tara and Andi that Mercedes is actually a really nice person.

The people who seem like the heroes also make bad decisions. Erik is a recovering addict and he doesn't always handle his emotions in a completely healthy way. When he is provoked, a switch goes off and he becomes an angrier person, even if just for a second. But he also wants to help his students and make them love theater and for reading plays not to seem like a chore. He wants it to be fun. He just wants the kids that he teaches to love what he loves. He wants to get better; he had problems and he is trying to fix them. It is just hard. Mercedes is a very religious person and she wants to be worthy of things. She has a very high standard for herself, but when people push her, she turns into to the people who are bullying her. I understand why she does it. She sees these people who have power because they are mean to other people, and she says, "Oh, I know how to get them back by doing the same thing, only doubling it." That just makes it so she is the bully and they are the victims; it makes her the villain of her own story, even if they did the bad thing first. There is no one on this planet who isn't a little messed up by their circumstances. But just because something bad has happened to you, doesn't mean that you should take it out on other people. Everyone has an excuse for what they do, but that doesn't make what they do valid.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful teacher-student relationships, sympathetic mean girls, and using literally not in a literal way. I think that people should go see this show. I think it is a really compelling story with complicated characters. It uses The Crucible in a relatable way and modernizes it and shows you things about it you might not have thought of before. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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