BOTTOM LINE: An interesting story with realistic characters in compelling relationships. It's also laugh-out-loud funny and socially relevant.
From Up Here is a refreshing piece of theatre in mid-April, 2008. I'm not sure it would seem quite as stimulating at another time, but for right now, it's a treat to see. From a theatrical standpoint, it's been a while since I've simply seen a story being told on stage, without bells, whistles, and video projections adding to or messing with the story's integrity. And from the perspective of the plot itself, From Up Here gives a unique vantage point on the very timely issue of violence in schools.
The story takes place in a typical Midwest suburb, at a typical Midwest high school. The playwright, Liz Flahive, carefully weaves the characters personalities so their interactions are believable and sincere. Tension is high on this particular morning as Kenny (Tobias Segal) is allowed back at school after he, months before, brought a gun to school and threatened to use it. Kenny's mom (Julie White) and step-dad (Brian Hutchison) try to keep things "normal" as he prepares to rejoin society and essentially begin a new life. Even though Kenny seems rehabilitated (though it's hard to believe he was ever capable of mass murder), he knows his peers won't accept him with open arms.
Adolescent angst is hard enough without the label of psycho-killer, and Segal plays Kenny with an uncomfortable edge while still letting us see his raw and genuine spirit. He's not a bad-guy, but rather a disturbed kid who illicits sympathy. At Kenny's side are his younger sister Lauren (Aya Cash) and world-traveling aunt Caroline (Arija Bereikis). Lauren is cynical and Juno-esque, and Cash brings out the conflicted attitudes of a 15-year old who is too aware for her own good. Caroline is a big hippie, and the only family member who assures Kenny that life will continue and inevitably improve after he gets through his teenage years.
The main reason I enjoyed From Up Here is because I actually cared about these characters and I wanted to know what would happen and how they would resolve their conflicts. The story never drills plot points into your head, nor does it expect you to pick up on inane details to understand what's happening. The exposition occurs at a comfortable, conversational pace and the dialogue is colloquial enough to ease you right in to these people's lives. Leigh Silverman's direction keeps the energy high and the talented designers (and sizable budgets) make it all realistic.
From Up Here is a well-crafted piece of theatre with the emphasis on telling a story, live and on a stage. Without the frills and tactics of over-produced theatre, From Up Here is what it is, an interesting story that sucked me in and won me over.
(From Up Here plays until June 8 at NY City Center, Stage I, 131 West 55th Street. Tickets are $75 and are available at the City Center website or by calling 212-581-1212. Student tickets are $25 and are available day of show, up to 1 hour before showtime...call the box office at 212-581-1212 for more info. Visit mtc-nyc.org to learn more about the production.)