What, exactly, is playwright Lindsay Joy Murphy trying to accomplish with “Rise and Fall of a Teenage Cyberqueen”? The title implies a titillating, campy, and possibly sordid soap opera, and some of Murphy’s scenes live up to that suggestion. At other points it seems we’re being handed a didactic cautionary tale about the dangers of today’s communications technology, a Lifetime movie exposing the hidden dangers of Internet hookups and YouTube exposure. Sometimes the play comes off as a subtle, existentially bleak look at family dysfunction in the American suburbs, in the vein of such films as “The Ice Storm” and “American Beauty.” I found myself involved in the story—and impressed with many of the characterizations and performances—though I wasn’t quite sure what it all added up to.
The play gets off to an unimpressive start in which we see the title character, a 14-year-old girl named Lyla (Kathryn Wilson), in a pink wig and tulle tutu (and little else) taping a lip-synched music video that she will post online. The language of the first couple of scenes seems stilted and farfetched. “You’ve stumbled down the rabbit hole, and I ain’t Alice!” Lyla tells her cyber audience, sounding a bit too polished and knowing for a kid her age, however media savvy. But as the play continues, the proceedings acquire a welcome sheen of believability.
Wilson delivers a sharp performance as a girl who claims to be a proud advocate for the nerds of the world but who quickly sells them out when her online notoriety gives her a temporary boost in approval among her school’s popular students. Another standout is Daniela Mastropietro, as Lyla’s mother, Darla, whose approach to parenthood vacillates between shoulder-shrugging permissiveness and ferocious protectiveness. I also liked the nuanced work of Jacob Perkins as Lyla’s acerbic 17-year-old brother Micah, who embarks on an Internet-instigated sexual relationship with Jed (Perry Lewis), the father of a classmate.
Yes, every single character in “Teenage Cyberqueen” has some secret or other—almost always related to communications technology— that threatens to result in personal catastrophe. No actor here explores furtiveness as effectively as Jinn S. Kim aka Talym, who plays Lyla and Micah’s stepfather, Owen. Kim understands that a character harboring a secret allows different personality facets to emerge, depending on who else is in the room. When Owen is alone with his stepdaughter he’s a shy goofball, but when in the middle of an emergency he is confronted with a male peer—Lyla’s English teacher, Bill Reardon (Casey Grieg)—he turns up the testosterone level and becomes a snarling lion guarding his pride. I was disappointed in Kim early on, but I came to appreciate the details in his chameleonic and ultimately creepy performance.
Director Padraic Lillis helps bring the disparate fabrics of Murphy’s script into a reasonably well-constructed patchwork, and lighting designer Greg Goff must be commended for making do quite handily with minimal tech resources.
Presented by the LabRats Theater Company at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, 4th floor, NYC. Feb. 28–March 17. (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com. Casting by Jenn Haltman.
Critic’s Score: B