Life isn't about avoiding pain but plumbing its depths and managing the results wails Another Kind of Love, a female-driven punk-rock masterpiece by Crystal Skillman, now receiving a debut production from InFusion Theatre Company. Maybe masterpiece isn't quite the right word—it suggests something lofty and out of reach, where this play banks on raw and accessible if festering emotions. But an artistic achievement it is.
The Brooklyn-based Skillman has previously tackled angsty relationships and paid fan-girl tributes, but this time she gives us sisters, those lovable/hateful creatures simultaneously in each other's arms and at each other's throats. Here there are three of them, ex-members of a Riot Grrrl-era band, now in their 30s and struggling to find a way forward. The oldest, Tanya, stayed in Seattle's suburbia with her 15-year-old daughter, Max, while the others, Kit and Collin, cashed in on fame to varying degrees. They haven't seen each other since the band broke up, but after urgings from Max—herself a punk rocker in the making—the sisters reunite on the anniversary of their rock-star mother's suicide.
That's the premise for the play Skillman started work on three years ago, which until February lacked another critical component: live music. Then she ran into composer Heidi Rodewald, who with her collaborator Stew had success with the Tony-nominated Passing Strange (2008) and last year's Family Album, both shows about older rockers trying to navigate the wild unknowns of middle age. Rodewald's organic, reverb-laced songs sound like they come from someone who's actually played in a band (she has) while still taking into account a wider audience whose relationship with grunge may not go beyond Nirvana. Rehearsal involved a month of band practice before scene work even began.
The women of this remarkable cast are badasses, their acting as fierce as their guitar shredding. And while all the proper nods to 90s punk are in place—Cobain, Bikini Kill, Unwound—this isn't a play about punk rock. It isn't even a play about women, at least not according to Skillman, who maintains that the sisters represent the sheer power of discovering one's artistic voice. In Max we have something of an anomaly: she's an underage girl who drinks, skips school, talks openly about sex, and amazingly, this play doesn't punish her for any of that. Max doesn't pride herself on her relation to her mother, father, boyfriend—her greatest connection is to herself. Her pain comes not out of familial absence but out of what she's yet to come to terms with internally. She wants fame, but more importantly she wants autonomy. We watch, praying she gets it.
Skillman jokes that while in rehearsals for her 2012 play Wild, the crew used to tally the show's F-bombs—more than 300, they estimated. There could easily be that many and more here, another refreshing deviation from a gendered norm. The show's fucks represent a freedom of their own—the uninhibited women who utter them don't give one. As Bikini Kill once screamed, "Does it scare you boy that we don't need you? Us punk rock whores don't need you." v