You Got Older
Clare Barron's eccentric dramedy puts family in a new light in its world premiere production at HERE.
Like the aging process, there is no modesty in Clare Barron's new play You Got Older, a Page 73 world premiere now running at HERE. A recent recipient of the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the bold young playwright blends fantasy with a level of brutal candor that few would even dare to bring into conversation with their closest relations. Yet in Barron's boundaryless world, her central character, Mae, can neurotically rant to a stranger about her emotional and dermatological woes, and conjure images of wild sexcapades with a spectral cowboy. At times these cringe-inducing scenarios seem to be put on the stage for the sole purpose of making her audience squirm — but in the midst of this jarring explicitness, Barron uses her unique voice to build a quirky and sincerely touching family story.
Mae, played by the talented Brooke Bloom, finds herself at the dysfunctional center of this family saga. A recently single and unemployed lawyer, she is beckoned home to care for her father (a beautifully sympathetic Reed Birney) while he undergoes cancer treatment — an unfortunate yet welcome opportunity to escape her crumbling life. However, her father's illness paired with her own sexual frustrations brings a heightened awareness of her own bodily functions and malfunctions. She seethes with paranoia over a lump under her jawbone, obsesses over her grotesque back rash, and hosts many an early-morning visit from her phantom cowboy, with whom she acts out violent sexual fantasies (that is until her father awkwardly interrupts with quiet knocks at the door).
Bloom, whose physical appearance fluidly fluctuates between mature femininity and helpless juvenility (with the aid of costume designer Ásta Bennie Hostetter's wardrobe selections), encapsulates what seems to be her character's second journey to adulthood. She even gets to relive her adolescent days sneaking boys into her bedroom for clumsy midnight rendezvous with Mac (an endearingly deadbeat William Jackson Harper), one of her sister's old grammar school classmates and a man who shares many of Mae's vulgar idiosyncrasies.
However, beyond the general disorientation that plagues Mae's existence, there is very little holding these threads of plot together. While director Anne Kauffman builds sharp, comically engaging scenes, their unclear cumulative trajectory makes it difficult to remain invested in Mae's journey, namely because we're not quite sure what journey she's on — though it seems neither does she. Daniel Zimmerman's sparse set design heightens this sense of ambiguity, as a carpeted basement displaying a stuffed deer head only subtly alters its aesthetic for each of the play's locations.
Still, Kauffman directs Barron's oddball sense of humor with perfect timing, making for a number of delightfully neurotic characters, particularly among the clan of siblings who gather around their father's hospital bed. Mae's older sister Hannah (Miriam Silverman), her other sister, Jenny (Keilly McQuail), and her brother, Matthew (Ted Schneider), casually bicker over their father's comatose body to find an apt description of their family's musty aroma while arguing about whose wedding will supply the next family dance party. Barron hits her stride with this eccentric banter, charmingly executed by a company of wry-witted actors. As the roots of Mae's family tree take shape, her own character also comes into clearer focus, revealing a substantial human being with nuances that go deeper than a fast-talking, sex-crazed hypochondriac. By the end of the play's perplexing 100 minutes, you can't help but think there's more to her story.