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BWW Review: “I Hate it Here” Nails the Nuance of “these unprecedented times”

Studio Theatre's sophomore audio play is a hilarious, and exhausting, romp through our struggles with race, identity and grief in the era of social distancing.

BWW Review: “I Hate it Here” Nails the Nuance of “these unprecedented times”

Once in a while, a phrase comes along that defines an era. The late 70s and "I Love New York." The 80s and "just say no." The "hope and change" of the mid-aughts. "I hate it here" and our year of plague, racial unrest and political polarization. In fact, "I hate it here" is so 2020 that it is the perfect title for Studio Theatre's second audio play; a work so zeitgeist-y it is exposure therapy for "these unprecedented times."

Playwright and director Ike Holter's I Hate it Here: Stories from the End of the Old World tackles race, the presidential election, the #MeToo movement, the 400,000 COVID-19 deaths and more in about the time it takes for the curtain to fall on a one-act play. The work's 11 vignettes, recorded at home by a cast of just seven actors, joins a host of other pandemic-era anthologies warring for our attention in quarantine. But what makes I Hate it Here standout is its unique format -- think Hamilton mixtape meets Orson Wells' The War of the Worlds -- and its ability to turn quotidien truths into palatable spectacle.

Holter's wordsmithery -- phrases like "chuckle fucks," or "gargles at me like some drunk-ass swamp troll" or "old Activia yogurt-white" to name a few -- cuts sharply through the mind-numbing boredom of yet another night asking a screen for entertainment. Of course, the narrative only benefits from the aural world Noel Nikhols, Gabriel Ruiz and Mikhail Fiksel create. Crashing waves or a hissing bus conjures a craggy bluff or a hot summer street. At one point a blunt is lit and, on hearing it crackle, one can practically smell the weed.

Of course, the aural story is just a box for the actors' talent. Sydney Charles, Ruiz, and Behzad Dabu give standout performances as characters both over-the-top and deeply relatable. "You will break your back for this company till we say stop because you're family," Ruiz, playing a malignant fast-food manager -- and every toxic authority figure ever -- shouts in "That Chicken Place." While Charles as Ms. Marcy, a teacher dealing with a dyslexic student from a racist family in "You First," is as fed up with being "listened to'' as anyone in a diversity and inclusion seminar has ever been. In "Fuck that Place," Dabu delivers some of the work's best lines less like standup, and more like the funny friend describing the worst job they've ever had.

"Bystander," one of the play's more self-contained narratives, creates two of the most captivating characters. Lisa (Jennifer Mendenhall) and Thomas (Jaysen Wright) debate political correctness at a COVID-era wedding, but their conversation isn't really about them. In a twist worthy of a Black Mirror episode, the scene turns on the audience, demanding that listeners ask themselves the same questions plaguing the characters.

As dynamic as the work is, deftly mixing American Idiot-esque tunes with witty dialogue, confronting our pain for 80 minutes is exhausting. Studio Theatre has graciously offered the work free-of-charge, so maybe take a break. Or share it with others to commiserate. Just be sure to include this warning: I Hate it Here will make you detest your wokeness, reconsider your friendships and marvel at how the only way out of all this is through.

Audiences can listen to I Hate it Here for free on Studio's website until March 7, 2021.

I Hate It Here is part of Studio In Your Ears, the Theatre's series of free audio dramas that also includes an adaptation of Sarah Burgess's political drama Kings.

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