Interrogating our notions about tricky subjects is definitely within literature's purview, but the law regarding responsibility for pedophilia is simple—it begins and ends with the adult. Then again, everything seems to be Jessiee's responsibility in Boise Contemporary Theater's co-world premiere of playwright Hansol Jung's No More Sad Things, which opened Nov. 28.
Jessiee (Carie Kawa) cares for her ailing mother in Akron, Ohio, but—on a whim and possibly fleeing earlier trauma—she flies to Hawaii and promptly hooks up with handsome surfer Kahekili (Kaimana Ramos), who she soon learns is underage. What follows is a riveting, high-moral-stakes balancing act that will have people talking long after the curtain falls.
Lodged in the guts of No More Sad Things are questions of whether 32-year-old Jessiee's trip is a vacation or a mental breakdown. She is haunted by recurring dreams of frogs, urgent telephone calls from her hotel lobby, the events that led her to fleet to the Aloha State, and the moral and legal consequences of her actions. Kahekili, whose life has so far been defined by the ocean and a has-been father, is increasingly frustrated by—but drawn to—her behavior. For both, every moment feels like a crucible.
Kawa's performance as Jessiee teeters between ebullience and hysteria. Ramos' performance, however, doesn't quite capture the character's mounting desperation and helplessness. Brian Quijada plays Guidebook, a source of exposition, humor and a ukulele-playing shmoo-in-residence. He jumps in to play tertiary characters like the bellhop at Jessiee's hotel and her high-school boyfriend.
This is Jung's first professionally produced play and its co-world premiere took place at BCT and Chicago's Sideshow Theatre Company. Audiences will appreciate her sure hand at ratcheting up the play's tension without trivializing the serious criminal and moral issues involved. Direction from Julie Ritchey weaves music, humor, dreams and mythology into a quirky retelling of a bad personal crisis bordering on Greek tragedy.
The virtue of No More Sad Things is not in shock, but how it builds on the shocking to explore its characters' inner worlds to spark dialogue in this one.