This powerful 50-minute devised performance by About Face Youth Theatre is a collection of sketches, monologues, and movement pieces dramatizing the theme of anxiety—specifically the fears and confusion felt by the show’s creator-performers in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. AFTY, now in its 20th year, is described by its parent organization, About Face Theatre, as “a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and allied young people to become activists and theatre-makers.” The writer-actors, aged mid-teens to mid-20s, have drawn on their personal stories of being bullied by classmates, browbeaten by teachers, and mishandled by therapists—aggressions intensified by the dehumanizing hostility toward “outsiders” that increasingly dominates our sociopolitical environment, including in the world of social media that so greatly impacts these young people’s lives.
Under Donny Acosta’s direction, the ten cast members have reimagined their real-life experiences as “horror stories,” using tropes inspired by movies and TV shows about vampires, monsters, stalkers, and the like. Sometimes funny and sometimes genuinely scary, these alternately expressionistic and surreal nightmare scenarios express the performers’ emotional responses to current events in a surprisingly potent way without resorting to message-y preaching. The bare-bones production on a mostly empty stage at the Center on Halsted’s Hoover-Leppen Theatre highlights the talented and articulate young cast’s honest, well-modulated theatrical storytelling. Inventive media and sound design by Spencer Meeks and lighting by Claire Sangster enhance the show’s impact. And the courage and candor of the ensemble are inspiring. v