BOTTOM LINE: A well-written and cleanly-executed play about two teenagers who hate the world, for different reasons.
The two protagonists of 22 Stories are like the yin and the yang of teenage disfunction. Nicole (Alexandra Jennings) is trying so hard to be the perfect student that she can’t bring herself to do anything fun. She's hyper-aware of how her current performance will affect her future success and refuses to let herself stumble off that path. Natasha (Juliette Monaco) is so busy rebelling that she has no time for responsibility. She also can’t shake the feeling that, in her words, “the world fucking sucks.” Nicole and Natasha both feel hopeless, but in opposite ways. They are also inextricably connected because they are fraternal twins.
22 Stories follows Nicole as she rides the rollercoaster of adolescent emotion, pushed to the extreme by the fact that Natasha has recently jumped from the roof of their Manhattan apartment building in a final act of angry rebellion. Interspersed are flashback scenes of Nicole and Natasha together, trying to hash out their divergent views, all the while maintaining an awareness that, somewhere inside, they really love each other.
In the program, playwright Sophia Johnson states that she started writing 22 Stories when she was a sophomore in high school and that Nicole and Natasha are actually based on two sides of her own personality that she was struggling to reconcile with at that time. In the play, this comes through as realistic and genuine emotions that push toward an understanding that, whether you’re a Nicole or a Natasha, teenagers are often forced to deal with adult problems without yet having the life experiences to put them in perspective. Johnson’s writing is sensitive enough to give the audience a glimpse into each girl’s mind, but doesn’t lose sight of the limitations of each perspective.
Jennings and Monaco both embody their characters with abandon and Jennings particularly shines during her monologues that depict the fever pitch of anger, self-blame and profound sadness that she feels in the wake of her sister’s suicide, which is only piled on top of her constant desire to be the perfect student. Director Anna Foss Wilson's staging makes ample use of the simple (and simply effective) set, at times turning the girls' shared bedroom into a memorybook of life before the Great Tragedy.
22 Stories is a perfect show for the Fringe; It starts with a simple comparison of two types of teenagers and fleshes it out in a clean and dynamic 45-minute story. If this is the kind of thinking Johnson was doing when she herself was a teenager, her outlook must not be as hopeless as that of her protagonists. She’s on track to something great.
(22 Stories plays at Teatro IATI, 64 East 4th Street, through August 28, 2011. Remaining performances are Wednesday, August 17th at 5:45PM; Friday, August 19th at 2PM; Sunday, August 21st at 12PM; Friday, August 26th at 7PM; and Sunday, August 28th at 3:15PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more show info visit 22-stories.blogspot.com. For more info about FringeNYC visit fringnyc.org.)