REVIEW: You’re Being Dramatic by Zadie Kennedy McCracken

Thea and Arvy are best friends having a sleepover at Thea’s house. Thea is texting with her boyfriend. Arvy is manic, restless and annoyed that Thea is distracted from their alone time. These sleepovers are a regular thing but tonight they are going to open up more than they ever have in their fifteen-year-old lives.

Years later, Thea and Arvy meet in a bar. They have lost contact but their teenage friendship and secrets still feel fresh and vital when they make contact again after living vastly different lives.

Given the back-and-forth structure of You’re Being Dramatic, I wondered if this was a kind of memory play. Where the truths of their teenage years would be fudged by their adult memories and that the strange knocking at the door, which Arvy can hear much earlier than Thea, would remain inexplicable. But it’s explained away as local boys; misogyny banging at the door of their safe childhood space.

The scenes of the girls bonding and tell long-held secrets has the ring of truth about it, though it’s hard for me to imagine fifteen-year-olds talking so clearly and openly about their anxiety and mania. But mental health is much more openly-discussed these days, and it’s been a long time since I was in high school. Thea and Arvy feel like real people going through that hormonal stage where everything is Very Dramatic and things always feel a little bit out of control.

The scenes with the adult versions are less convincing, though. Most of these future scenes are played as monologues, where dialogue might have allowed us to feel as in-the-moment there as we do when they are kids – lazing around on two mattresses that are pushed together and covered by pillows.

Interspersing future and past in such short, fragmented moments stops the dramatic flow of the play. Moving the actors from bed to table and back again during numerous scene transitions becomes irritating after a while. Playing with past and future is occasionally affecting – watching innocent teenage drinking contrast with a recovering addict adult version of Arvy has real power. But the central truth and secret of the play is quite obvious early on because of this choice to give us glimpses of the future, while we indulge in the past.

Playwright Zadie Kennedy McCracken’s dialogue is energetic and revealing for the most part, though some of the future monologues are overwritten and hamper being able to empathise with what these girls and then women have been through. And the play outstays its welcome – later diversions into depictions of misogynistic men and the resolution of the banging at the front door feel superfluous. There were at least three moments deep into the play that felt like an ending and yet the play continued.

Megan Mitchell is having fun as Thea, but Jess Sofarnos’ Arvy stands out as the world-weary lesbian, even when she’s fifteen. Sofarnos finds real pathos on Arvy’s later-in-life story (her monologue about everything she’s done since she last saw Thea is a highlight) and the performance feels well-rounded and lived-in.

There’s some real insight and spice in the depiction of teenagers chatting and digging into the drama of their lives. But I came away not quite sure what McCracken wanted to leave us thinking or feeling. Yes, there’s a sadness at a friendship lost, but in the overall tapestry of their lives, I wasn’t sure if that one night in their teens was dramatic enough to really change who they became as adults.

- Keith Gow, Theatre First

You’re Being Dramatic closes at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory space tonight

Photo: Morgan Roberts