For the first time this term, an evening of the New Plays Festival II was devoted to one full-length show: “LUB,” by alum Caroline Castro ‘11, directed with poise by junior Chloe Vollenweider.
A long, black block dominates the stage, representing two objects the play revolves around: a canopy bed and a bathtub. The bathtub is (but of course) the home of a sexy mermaid (senior Natalie Polechonski) who periodically offers advice to the Hispanic women of the house: Oma, the matriarch (senior Elizabeth Tweedy); Emma, her five-year-old granddaughter (freshman Lillie Chamberlin); Alba, Emma’s college-aged sister (sophomore Djaq Morris) and the girls’ mother, Linda, a nightclub singer (junior Dani Fraser). And boy do they need the advice, what with the sleazy but “casually sexy” Roger (sophomore Gilberto Martinez) frequently stopping by to seduce mother or daughter, depending on the day.
This cast is universally excellent, with highlights being understated and honest performances from Tweedy, Chamberlin and Morris, and a hilarious second-act, drunken tour de force from Fraser. Polechonski swims around her in “bathtub” exuding playful sensuality (it’s amazing how easily an audience will believe a black box to be a bathtub, and how well Vollenweider’s actors make use of it as such), drawing the women into the water with her like the sirens of yore. The women go to Polechonski’s color-shifting bath waters to discuss love, sex and puberty with this mermaid-therapist of sorts.
Central to the story is the developing sexuality of introverted, “late-blooming” Alba as she is hit on relentlessly by Roger, her mother’s ex. Though the mermaid encourages her to explore her sexuality with Roger, Castro never demonizes Alba for this exploration. Roger is certainly at fault for preying on the young girl, but nothing in the script blames Alba for falling victim to his advances. Near the end of the play, Alba begins to revolt from the mermaid’s influence and claim her own sexuality fully, in a (literally) masturbatory monologue not fully realized in this reading but with the potential for fantastic impact in the future.
The future is indeed what this reviewer thinks Castro needs to look toward. “LUB” is fascinating, beautiful, moving and funny, but the constraints of a Midwestern liberal arts college-staged reading are obvious.
Though the Spanish is fine, the cast is clearly mostly white, and much of what needs attention Ñ the imagery, the feasibility of so many people randomly wandering into the bathroom, and the blunt sexuality Ñ needs a full staging to be productively explored. Here’s hoping that such an exciting reading in Studio will propel Castro to explore just that. What her play has to say is timely and important: In “LUB,” young women arrive at the conclusion that their sexual bodies are shared, not given, and that those bodies are owned by themselves and themselves only. “My body is mine,” declares Alba near the end of the play, not needing any men or mermaids to tell her so.