Sol Marina Crespo and Isaiah Tenenbaum
in Menders
(© Justin Hoche)
Sol Marina Crespo and Isaiah Tenenbaum
in Menders
(© Justin Hoche)
Erin Browne's simplistic dystopian fantasy, Menders, now being presented by Flux Theatre Ensemble at the Gym at Judson, mines the same territory exhaustively -- and more intriguingly -- explored by numerous authors of Young Adult speculative fiction.

Browne posits a future in which an increasingly divisive and repressive political climate has given rise to a separatist state. Those within "the Wall" are schooled in groupthink. All forms of potentially subversive culture (poetry included) have been banned. The community's primary goal is survival via conformity. Paramount in the struggle to manage limited resources is the need to keep "the Others"-- the Outsiders beyond the Wall -- at bay.

Eighteen-year-old Corey (Sol Marina Crespo) and her cousin Aimes (Isaiah Tanenbaum) are in the final stage of their training as Wall Menders. They're on active duty, patrolling the perimeter under the tutelage of Drew (Matt Archambault), a former "Investigator," one of the elite few who have actually witnessed life on the other side. Is Drew perhaps no longer buying the party line? Hints are dropped, frequently and heavily.

The story is told in flashbacks from Corey's point of view, as she pleads for leniency before a faceless tribunal. Having been jailed for some unspecified act of sedition, she recounts her apprenticeship under the gnomic Drew, who whiles away the daily trudges by telling the impressionable teenagers stories -- parables, if you will -- from "the time Before."

Corey senses that something about Drew's pedagogy is not quite right, but she and her equally dopey cousin -- they talk and act like grade-schoolers -- gradually become hooked on his whimsical tales.

One tale involves a lonely farmer (down-to-earth Mike Mihm) who falls in love with "a woman with wings" (the lovely Vivia Font) who happens to fall into his wheatfield. Desperate to keep her by his side, he commits an unspeakable act which jeopardizes any future they might share.

Drew's other narrative concerns Ash (Raushanah Simmons), an investment banker-slash-busker -- she plays guitar on the subway for amusement -- who becomes enamored of Tam (Ingrid Nordstrom), a mousy bookworm who's allergic to sunlight. Both actors lend this story thread such authenticity that, despite some precious details, it feels worth following.

While Crespo strives mightily, and visibly, to lend Corey's plight a palpable urgency, there's no overlooking the fact that we're in the land of laborious pretend.