It was hard to miss the murmurs as the lights went up on the Silhouette Theatre Company’s opening night production of Deirdre O’Connor’s coming-of-age drama “Jailbait.”
The show may only be the Silhouette troupe’s third production, but the relatively young company has already carved out a niche for challenging drama. “Jailbait” is no exception – the show asks tough questions about the pitfalls of adolescence in the age of texting, Facebook and instant, unfiltered Internet access to all kinds of information.
Director Johanna Jaquith leads a compact cast of four through a stark staging of O’Connor’s story about two 15-year-old girls posing as 21-year-olds in order to gain access to a Boston nightclub and hang out with older men. Claire (Michelle Hurtubise) dons the tight clothes and high heels at the urging of Emmy (Cortney Patston), her fellow high school sophomore more experienced in the ways of sex and social interaction. At the club, the pair of high schoolers meet their two 30-something dates, Mark (Brian Brooks) and Robert (Ryan Wuestewald). It’s Mark’s second date with Emmy, and he’s intent on bringing her home before the club closes. Robert, looking to escape the funk brought on by the end of a six-year relationship, reluctantly agrees to the date with Claire, whom he believes is a chemistry major at Harvard.
The truth of Claire and Emmy’s real age looms in the background as the drinks flow and the interactions become steamier. Two high school girls looking to grow up too quickly collide with two middle-aged men desperate to stay young and make connections. The results are at once awkward, uncomfortable and heartbreaking.
It’s a simple and straightforward plot structure, one that can feel more like a vignette or a class exercise than a full-fledged production. The Silhouette’s simple staging adds to that feel – Brian Miller’s lighting design alters between the soft lighting of household rooms to the strobe of reds and blues in the clubs. Paul Jaquith’s sound design is rooted in contemporary pop sounds and droning club beats, a soundtrack that keeps needling away.
The biggest dramatic challenge lies with Hurtubise and Patston selling their status as 15-year-olds, a task both actresses take on with careful attention to detail. The characterizations come in small touches, like the pair sharing a bottle of wine stolen from the fridge of Claire’s mother and making exaggerated facial expressions for photos snapped with a cell phone. The most affecting moments are more profound – Emmy desperate to impress her date at the club and equally desperate to avoid going home with him, Claire insisting to Robert that she doesn’t “feel 15.”
Hurtubise and Patston paint an aching portrait of two insecure and unsure high school girls growing up in a world full of pressure and expectations. As director Johanna Jaquith notes in the program, “the buffer of childhood is rapidly disappearing and kids, little girls especially, are faced with the dark expectations of adulthood at an earlier and earlier age.” Those dark demands mark every moment of this ambitious production, and are strong enough to transport the audience to a more awkward and unsure time in their lives.
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-449-9707