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Be Aggressive

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Playwright Annie Weisman is as promised: a new, exciting, and unique voice in the American theatre. The world premiere of her first full-length play is currently on the playhouse's candy-apple red laminate boards. Abetted by a fine ensemble that inhabits and informs the work, the writer and director Lisa Peterson take audiences on a funny, edgy, and ultimately endearing roller-coaster ride of cinematic scenes fraught with laughs and lurches. Despite the play's garish red and chartreuse facade, its cheerleading premise, and its Valley-girl sensibility, the teen odyssey is packed with fully developed characters, emotional depth, pathos, political and social awareness, and poignancy; all of this without preaching. The 17-year-old point of view never wavers, and the work gleams with intelligence. The rider guffaws, gasps for breath, and ultimately wipes away sudden tears.

Members but not stars of their high school cheerleading squad, the seemingly naive Laura (Angela Goethals) and sexually active Leslie (Jennifer Elise Cox) are ripe for rebellion. Laura is bereft of her mother; Leslie hates hers. Laura's mother was killed in a hit-and-run accident while jogging along a narrow road near their home in a place called Vista del Sol, a fictional beach town in the throes of change, not unlike Del Mar, where Weisman was raised and was a cheerleader. At home in her "good girl" role, Laura strives to keep the kitchen humming for her well-meaning father, Phil. Emotionally paralyzed by his grief, he is brilliantly portrayed by Mark Harelik. Laura also tries to provide motherly as well as sisterly support to her feisty, precocious 12-year-old sister Hannah, played by Daisy Eagan, endlessly fascinating and endearing. When Leslie finds a brochure about an Eastern seaboard spirit camp where she and Laura will learn intense "Bible Belt" cheerleading, "not this coastal shit," the odyssey begins. As a result of the girls' disappearance, an unlikely alliance forms between pro-freeway Phil and Leslie's anti-freeway activist mother, played in rangy multifaceted fashion by Linda Gehringer. These two sing the fully human range of Weisman's subtle underlying melody.

Tamala Norbianski, Carly Kleiner, and Joy Osmanski play the rest of the cheer squad. With few lines and intense physicality they establish character. Audrey Fisher's cheerleader attire helps, and so does James F. Ingalls' California-tinged lighting design. The only annoyance is the frequency of scene shifts during the first act, but Rachel Hauck's fluid, neon scenic design and Laura Grace Brown's with-it sound design ameliorate and bridge the gaps. More affecting than flash and dazzle, Weisman's 21st century rhythm is cheering indeed.

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