Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Form
Jan 7-Feb 18, 2007
(l to r) Ellington Ratliff, Ryan Ogburn, Ricky Ashley, Seth Zibalese and Christian Vandal.
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Book by Dan Elish
So how was your adolescence, easy? Particularly the part where you were going through puberty? Did your junior high have cliques, in-groups and out-groups? If the answers to the above are “no,” “NO,” and “yes” you will want to enjoy 13; “want” being the operative word. There are more conditions: you have to have a taste for sitcoms, for sweet gooey endings, and generic rock and roll to meet all the qualifications for savoring Jason Robert Browns’ musical homage to the pains of growing up. Looking at it through Vaseline covered lenses might not be a bad idea either.
In a nutshell: Shortly before Evan’s ( Ricky Ashley) Bar Mitzvah, and after his parent’s divorce, his mom has moved him from happening New York to Appleton, Indiana where he tries to get into the in-group at his new school by inviting them to his Bar Mitzvah , officiated by a rabbi his mother has found on-line. He is limited to 10 invitations so he excludes the two kids in Appleton with whom he does have a relationship - Archie (Tyler Mann) the “cripple,” and Patrice (Sara Niemietz), the sweet nerdy girl he has been hanging out with – in favor of the “cool” kids. He is angry at being separated from his father and hip New York, but trying desperately to make it in Appleton where even the black football hero, Brett (J.D. Phillips), is best described as white bread.
Archie is the super bright kid on crutches who takes his disability – an ultimately fatal “neuromuscular disorder” as he unemotionally explains to Evan - and uses it to his advantage. The cool kids have manipulated Evan to get his mom to purchase tickets for all of them to an R rated movie. Through a combination of guilt and cajoling Archie manipulates Evan into getting Archie into the film too, and sitting next to blond beauty, cheerleader Kendra (Emma Degerstedt). On her other side is Brett who has planned to kiss her “with his tongue” (a plan he has disclosed to all a number of times). What passes for dramatic tension in 13 flows from Evan’s stress at getting accepted in the new school, Archie’s skillful manipulations, Brett’s big plan, and Patrice’s unjust isolation.
Somehow they arrive at a schmaltzy conclusion whereby Patrice and Evan give Archie meaningful advice about relationships and Evan realizes that Patrice is the one he cares about after all. Everyone ends up at the Bar Mitzvah party, four cool guys carry Evan about on a chair after first crossing themselves, and they dance through several numbers each of which you are sure must be the finale. In case you missed the point, Evan explains in his Bar Mitzvah speech, all this angst has truly made him a man.
The kids on the stage and the players in the garage band are all young teenagers. They play, dance and sing with enthusiasm and polish befitting a much older cast and that is fun to see. But serious theatre? I don’t think so. However a special nod must be given to David Gallo whose scenic design was fresh and original, cleverly and smoothly changing the stage from school lunch room to locker room, to 2 bedrooms – a girl on the phone in each – to a football field and more. Todd Graff’s skillful direction takes full advantage of Gallo’s creativity. The only musical number that sticks in the mind was “Being a Geek.” It is heads above the rest of the score musically and the choreography is more creative if less active.
In fairness, I must disclose that I interviewed the 14 and 16 year olds who were seated next to me. They loved it. The 16 year old thought it was true to life; her 14 year old sister thought the problems were true to life but the resolution was not. She added, “ I couldn’t bear it if they had been more real; it was too sad.”
Bottom line: good for the 10 to 16 year old set, and not too hard for their parents to sit through; not so interesting for the serious theatre-goer. But for a teenage audience, 13 is probably a wonderful way to turn them on to live theatre.