It must have been coming on six o’clock, after a short Green Line ride from Comm. Ave. I alighted at the corner of our Public Garden still beautiful with greenery, water, flowers and people strolling about. Perhaps more gorgeous as the fall season was about to glow with last colors then drop to ground.
It looked especially significant to me because I was heading for Park Street to catch the Red Line home to Cambridge with thoughts to chew on, thoughts of a play I’d just seen at Boston University’s Boston Playwrights’ Theater that was also full of both hope and angst, just like the towering elms, rooted deep, but heading towards winter — would they make it to another spring?
“Eat Your Young,” a Boston University New Play Initiative production, and a new play by J.C, Pankratz, directed by Shamus and produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre had punched a two-and-a-half-hour hole in my beautiful afternoon, when I could have been profitably tree gazing, people watching. But then, I wouldn’t have had Pankratz’s people to watch, a kaleidoscope of human sides, above and below the waterline, zestfully directed by Shamus, acted by an ensemble dedicated to its vital thesis — unafraid of getting their costumes dirty, ripped — just a step ahead of being eaten.
I feel like most of us sharing an ‘end times’ feeling too often these days, as we see around us a world seemingly bent on greedily devouring itself. And so, a play with the above title seemed as though it might be echoing that hungry mood with a suggestion we might before have looked at askance — and now just pass the salt.
The four youngsters in question have certainly been tenderized and flavored with all the sorry colors of careless upbringings, needs ignored. After all, who has time as we tip towards Armageddon?
‘Luckily’ for them — lost souls with barely a taste of maturity — a last-ditch effort to make them presentable to society has landed these mostly urbanite young in a sylvan retreat with hard-bitten counselors who’ve been themselves counseled at “New Frontiers and have drunk the poison down to its last sorry drops.
A spectacularly superficial training has penetrated, acidly, to the core of both the male and the female counselor who must think themselves the ‘Adam and Eve’ of a new generation tasked with screwing on the heads of their recalcitrant children — but tight.
I met the mother of ‘counselor’ Ross Beschler, at intermission and commiserated with her on her misled child. Ross’ ‘counselor ’is full to the brim with new age mandates, every one of which he’s inhaled himself, and is ‘barking’ mad.
The ‘black’ comedy — not so funny when you think about it — is concretized in the person of Ross’ ‘counselor’ actually barking as he zips in and out of the dark forest of New Frontiers, less human, more frightening each time he appears. HIs Eve’s hysteria is more contained but just as sharp in the tooth.
What’s rare and precious in “Eat Your Children,” to this reviewer, is the poignancy which the pathologies of both the institution and institutionalized are here presented.
The ‘blackness’ of this comedy has many shades to ponder, and the cast is up to those nuances to a man – and women. We cringe as the deep suffering of the different characters change from textbook pictures of maladies of the mind to human bodies, juddering and jiving from the exactions of these maladies on flesh and bone.
The earth seems to shake under our detached, onlooking theater seats, as it does tectonically, from time to time on stage, spewing up from volcanic depths minds willfully blind to other younger more vulnerable minds trapped and seeking release from social and familial violence to their unique need.
Not black and white, both sides in darkness. The question posed is: “Who will help the helpers? “Eat Your Young is such an original and visceral drama for now that we might forget the ancient Greek tragedies pointing the way before.
Closer to our own time is Macbeth’s wife, driven to murder by a lust for status, mired in pangs of guilt so sharp she wonders “Is this a dagger that I see before me?”
How about “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when ‘Big Nurse’ — nuttier by far than her wards — must be overthrown by a resourceful conspiracy to survive, perhaps to flourish outside a ‘nest’ that nurtures them to death.
Or the looming giant imagined by Goya sitting above the human strife of war eating human bodies in an age of gluttony, of blood lust.
So much we’re tempted to look away from appears again in many forms, offering yet another chance to look on, perhaps reach out.
“Eat Your Young” is yet another opportunity to scrutinize our diet, perhaps to halt mid-bite. To laugh, to think, to act.
The only opportunity I wished for was to thank the actors who played the four young counseled youth: Abacus Dean-Polacheck, Charlotte Stowe, Maez Gordon and Sunny Feldman. And to ask them how they kept their acting fires so hot, and so nuanced, for so long. To enable the audience to feel their unity as troubled young as well as the isolation of their different personalities and problematic upbringings.
Then, to scold Ross Beschler and his understudy sidekick Madeleine Bedenko for being the counselors with the leastest — to the dregs. And yet, as desperate as their wards for escape.
(The Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (BPT) presentation of J.C. Pankratz’s “Eat Your Young” continues through October 16 with performances on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue., Boston, Massachusetts. For more details and ticket information, visit BostonPlaywrights.org)