BWW Review: Forward Flux's Double Feature, Pt. 2: She's 32, He's 15, NO MORE SAD THINGS Is Still Worth Seeing
It starts ambiguously; two actors stare lovingly into each other's eyes, knelt on the ground as a third person sound-checks their ukulele. The two lovebirds Jessiee (Kiki Abba) and Kahekili (Lance Valdez), do not look like your typical, starry-eyed couple. And that kind of becomes the joke in "No More Sad Things". Now performing as part two of Forward Flux's double-feature, "No More Sad Things" examines an inappropriate relationship that satisfies two people on a cosmic level (and that's the only level that audience members will be comfortable with).
Jessiee and Kahekili have similarly cryptic dreams calling them to the same Hawaiian beach. Jessiee is a little forlorn and in need of a change, and Kahekili (Lance Valdez) is a little young, a little dumb, and full of...hope. He's easy-going, she's high-strung, but the unlikely pair strike up a conversation when Kahekili calls out Jessiee for throwing her cell phone into the ocean. The thing is, he genuinely wants to know why she did it: one, because, apparently, tourists are always throwing their garbage into the water; and two, because throwing a phone in the water might mean that she's upset. Kahekili's stripped-down language is enchanting to Jessiee, but what he says is not particularly insightful; he just has an accent and she's starved for company. Jessiee is in for a rude awakening when, to her horror, she discovers that Kahekili's stripped-down language and care-free demeanor can be explained by his age. His under-age. Thirty two-year-old Jessiee has just had a night of romantic passion with a fifteen-year-old boy.
It's a shocking moment for everyone, and the play does not make light of it. Well, it makes fun of it for a bit, but it does not romanticize the fact that Jessiee just statutory raped Kahekili. She's understandably mortified.
Surprisingly enough, Jessiee continues to see Kahekili. They seem to like each other, but there's a dark layer beneath their fun, because Kahekili is underage. It's hard to not imagine what the play would feel like were the genders reversed. Any complexity to their relationship would be subsumed to abuse. Thankfully, the play never shows nor suggests that the two engage with one-another sexually again. Director Wesley Fruge finds the necessary sweet spot between making their relationship seem sweet and terrible which keeps you invested in their relationship but laughing when it goes wrong. You do not want them to get together, but you want to see how it plays out.
All three of the performers bring impressive complexity to their roles. Kiki Abba portrays confused Jessiee as very sympathetic, but just pathetic enough so moments of redemption are that much more triumphant. As Kahekili, Lance Valdez is a delight. Perfectly worry-free, naïve, and endearing, Valdez captures the tone and physicality of a young surfer dude. Valdez passing for fifteen is a stretch, but, frankly, having Valdez look like he's in his twenties makes watching Jessiee and Kahekili's relationship easier to swallow.
Nabilah Ahmed's role as the guidebook requires a lot of theatrical stamina: they have to sing, play ukulele, play a variety of characters in Jessiee's flashbacks, and switch emotional positions at the drop of a hat. Ahmed convincingly plays every one of their wide range of characters, from Jessiee's star-gazing high school boyfriend, to robotically (but pleasantly) reciting passages from a Ka'anapali guidebook like a tour guide would. Ahmed sustains a Pam Am smile, and even brings personality when playing a book.
"No More Sad Things" is challenging, and gut-bustingly funny. For this dark romantic-comedy, I give Forward Flux's "No More Sad Things" a deeply moved A-. It's a hard sell, but it's worth it.
"No More Sad Things" performs at West of Lenin through October 7, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.forwardflux.com.