Burning Coal's spiky Jailbait | Theater | Indy Week

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Burning Coal's spiky Jailbait

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In Jailbait, a spiky drama playing at the Murphey School Auditorium as part of Burning Coal's Second Stage series, high school sophomores Claire and Emmy decide to play dress-up and sneak into a 21-and-over dance club. Their plan—barely thought through—is to get drunk, flirt with some guys and maybe orbit the adult world for a while.

Things get complicated, naturally. Also at the club that night are Robert and Mark, 30-something guys with their own dubious reasons for making the singles scene. Mark, coming off a breakup, is less predatory than his friend, but he's happy to take Claire's word for it when she says she's a junior at Harvard.

In director Christine Zagrobelny's minimalist staging, playwright Deirdre O'Connor's story is stripped to its essentials. Navigating a few multipurpose set pieces, the characters pair off in scenes designed to explore the dynamics beneath each relationship. As the reluctant Claire, Burning Coal company member Tara Polhemus (also a senior at Millbrook High School) gives a startlingly sophisticated performance. Anna Vargas brings a sadness to her portrayal of Emmy, a girl pretending to a cynicism she doesn't even understand.

The fellas don't quite hold up their end, so this story belongs to the young women. The scenes between Claire and Emmy get richer and more treacherous as plans go awry and motives are revealed—teenage motives, cruelest in the cosmos.

The presentation has its interesting observations—for instance, how people in clubs tend to hold onto their drinks like talismans. But Jailbait is most compelling simply in its choice of subject matter.

As a culture, we don't talk much in public about sex and adolescence. When we do, we tend to bury it in soft-focus mush or blunt and anxious comedy. The teenage sex in Jailbait (always offstage or hypothetical) is more honestly presented—as enticing, powerful and scary as hell.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Young meets old."

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