Smells Like Teen Spirit

Review of Lake Kelsey, Yale Cabaret

The very week that so many eyes turn to Minnesota with the shocking news of the death of one of the stellar musical artists of his generation, the Yale Cabaret takes us to Minnesota and the shores of the fictional Lake Kelsey. Perhaps the late Prince, whose film Purple Rain, in the mid-1980s, created an iconic myth of youth and creative struggle based on his own experiences in the Minneapolis music scene, might be said to be smiling benignly on fellow Minnesotan Dylan Frederick’s Lake Kelsey, a musical exploration of teen angst, gender confusion, and general confusion on the path to identity.

The world of Lake Kelsey, geographically, is dominated by its eponymous lake and by Route 63, the only major roadway in or out. There, a handful of teens do the things that teens stuck in a local rut—which might be Anywhere, U.S.—tend to do: drinking, reviling parents, engaging in furtive sex, working dead-end jobs that yet provide entry into the adult world, and dreaming of escape. Their longings, misgivings and clashes are set to very catchy tunes written by Frederick and played by a skilled pick-up band: Jenny Schmidt, keyboards; Ian Scot, bass and electronics; Frederick Kennedy, percussion, and sung well by all members of the cast.

The main drama here is teens negotiating the predatory landscape that their own hormones lead them into. Elijah Evans (Michael Costagliola) is the kind of laconic bad boy that turns on a dime from easy-going to cruel or from accommodating to pushing his own relentless libido. Apparently, young girls and girly boys of all stripes find themselves helpless to resist. Except for Boygirl (Anna Crivelli), so called because of a bad haircut she had as a kid and the name, as they say, “stuck.” She’s bent upon escape from the region and, possibly, exposure of Elijah’s reign of erotic bullying.

The play we’re shown ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, but those who have been raised on the concept of sequels will accept that they’ll have to wait “till next time” to find out what becomes of Boygirl—played with an earnest, “I have that within which passeth show” manner by Crivelli, looking a bit like a female Kurt Cobain.

 Anna Crivelli, Leland Fowler, Annie Middleton, Rebecca Hampe (photo: Christopher Thompson)

Anna Crivelli, Leland Fowler, Annie Middleton, Rebecca Hampe (photo: Christopher Thompson)

There’s a trio of girl singers: Annie Middleton as Virginia Virginia, the svelte blonde of the bunch with some distinct daddy issues stemming from his embarrassing tendency to want to be one of the kids—her “Daddy Dead” song is one of those numbers that could be a breakout for a musical like this; Rebecca Hampe as Sarah Sarah, a camp follower we’re introduced to at the start with her cloying “Star of the Class” presentation about herself; Leland Fowler as Sachi Sachi, a black girl whose racial difference seems to put her outside the reach of Elijah’s lechery, but “she” can really sing.

 Anna Crivelli (Boygirl), Patrick Foley (Thousand); photo: Christopher Thompson

Anna Crivelli (Boygirl), Patrick Foley (Thousand); photo: Christopher Thompson

Then there’s Thousand (Patrick Foley) who seems to be Boygirl’s only real friend and possible accomplice on her escape plan, except he’s found out how popular a boy who gives blowjobs can be among working guys, and being popular, as several songs make clear, is what life is all about hereabouts. Frederick’s book and music manages to maintain both an affectionate clarity about the cluelessness of the age group, as well as a certain aggrieved sense of how, for many teens, nothing exists beyond the shared world of the kids they’ve grown up with.

The set by Alexander Woodward is an inspired mash-up of spaces: the heap of detritus that looks like the collective sweepings of a housing development’s worth of rec rooms; the mic stands that belong in a talent show or karaoke night; the desks for the school scenes; the couch for the inevitable trip to Elijah’s basement; and don’t forget the trampoline, an almost magical space that evokes memories of free pre-teen innocence in the midst of guilty teen scenes.

A work in progress, Lake Kelsey, if given a more extended treatment, might benefit from a parental cameo or two and from some onstage exploration of the woods we keep hearing about. The show as it currently stands is primarily about character depiction, with the songs as tuneful exposition, rather than plot, but that could change with more development. Not to be confused with Lake Wobegon “where all children are above average,” Lake Kelsey gives us the kinds of kids whose averageness is their best asset, even as they strive to see what possibilities exist for fun and status before the inevitable descent into adulthood. As someone once said, “whatever, whatever, nevermind.”

Lake Kelsey marks the last show of the Yale Cabaret’s Season 48. Next up, Season 49 (2016-17) to be helmed by Co-Artistic Directors Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, with Managing Director Steven Koernig. A fond adieu to the Cab 48 team—David Bruin, Julian Elijah Martinez, Leora Morris, and Annie Middleton—and a warm welcome to the new team. Fittingly, the last show of Cab 48 was directed by one of the incoming co-artistic directors, with members of the departing team working as dramaturg and a performer, respectively. How’s that for team work?

 

Lake Kelsey
Music, Book, and Lyrics by Dylan Frederick
Directed by Kevin Hourigan

Music Director and Arrangements: Samuel Suggs; Dramaturg: Leora Morris; Scenic Designer: Alexander Woodward; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Carolina Ortiz Herrera; Sound Designer: Frederick Kennedy; Technical Director: Alex McNamara; Sound Mixer: Ien DeNio; Stage Manager: Avery Trunko; Producer: Rachel Shuey

Musicians: Keyboard: Jenny Schmidt; Bass and Electronics: Ian Scot; Percussion: Frederick Kennedy

Cast: Michael Costagliola; Anna Crivelli; Patrick Foley; Leland Fowler; Rebecca Hampe; Annie Middleton

Yale Cabaret
April 21-13, 2016