Clare Barron has been shaking up the expectations of Off-Broadway audiences and critics for some time. I first saw Baby Screams Miracle a few years ago largely because a friend was in it, but I was blown away by the edgy sense of danger in Clare’s voice. An accomplished actor, she writes utterly believable roles and dialogue that actors clamor for. And the settings of her plays seem naturalistic on the surface but turn out to be anything but what they appear.
The next play that I saw of hers, You Got Older, made me a true believer, as it dug even deeper into the scary territory of a father-daughter story set in the landscape of the body. You Got Older won Clare an Obie and a Drama Desk Award and whetted our appetites for what was to come.
When Playwrights’ Horizons announced Dance Nation in their 2017-2018 season, I bought tickets and planned a NY trip! Immediately after seeing it, I began the negotiations with her agent to bring this remarkable play to San Francisco. On the surface, it is the story of a dance troupe of thirteen-year-old girls preparing for an upcoming competition. But true to form, Clare finds danger lurking behind the daily rehearsal routine. It is the terrifying power of puberty as these girls’ bodies explode into women, throwing them into worlds they can’t imagine. Most of us swear we’d rather die than go through those years again, and Dance Nation is likely to confirm that instinct as it throws us into the nightmare of adolescence with all of its trauma, catastrophic change and uncertainty.
To engage our empathy for these pre-teens whose story is so rarely told and to awaken in us the terrors of that age might seem more than enough, but Ms. Barron does not stop there. She tweaks our perceptions by asking directors to cast women of all ages to play these young girls – women from their 60, 50s, 40s, and 30s. This device allows us to experience our young dancers through the eyes and bodies of the women they will become, just as the actors must encounter the girls they once were. The world of the play, like the psychic landscape of these children, is also chaotic and cannot be crammed into the confines of linear storytelling. Instead, we hurtle, lurch, and rampage along with our dancers thought their nightmare world where time seems irrelevant.