Punctuated with blasts of Heavy Metal songs and packed with ideas, themes, violence, and stage blood, “Not Afraid” turns out to be something more than not enough.
Two twenty-something roommates live in Chicago: out-going, beer-chugging law student Hunter (buoyantly brought to life by Anna Van Valin) and depressive metalhead fan Betsy (portrayed with poignant charm by Taylor Shurte), who blogs about the music she loves and Communism, while living off a lush inheritance from her grandma and hand-outs from her mother.
A chatty but downbeat hermit who rarely leaves the apartment and gets neither calls nor visitors is not the most interesting character— —so playwright Nora Sørena Casey arouses false drama in the form of Betsy’s menacing stalker online and self-harm. In one darkly humorous moment, Betsy insists, “We’re getting death threats!” as her roomie is about to leave for a date with her lover Michael. Hunter puts this in perspective by saying, “We? No! You!”
Though the women have known each other since college and do care about each other, the real glue is money. When Betsy’s rent payment is late, Hunter warns her she can’t live here unless she can contribute and suggests she get a job. Money is front and center in the first scene, too, when Hunter scores a job in a law firm with an $80,000 salary. The catch: the office is in Cincinnati, not Chicago. Betsy tries to disguise her fear of moving to a new city by harping on Hunter’s disloyalty to her devoted fiancé Robbie, who is expecting his girlfriend to return to Philadelphia when she finishes law school.
Since not that much happens in “Not Afraid,” Casey makes Betsy and Hunter often pause to discuss their opposing views about Communism and the world. But too often the women’s actions do not support their philosophies nor are these consistent with their identities. For instance, though Hunter is obsessed with making a lot of money, she only makes one weak suggestion about Betsy getting a job towards the end of the play. Also, as the death threats escalate, “The Man” (David Register) leaves blood smears on the front door. Is it believable that an aspiring attorney would scrub away evidence before Betsy phones the police? And though Hunter harps on the job she’s accepted, and lovingly dotes on the benefits package, there’s little else about her law student life; she never seems to study, there’s no mention of her area of specialty, and there’s no bragging about famous cases associated with the firm.
Costume designer Emily White did a decent job with a limited budget.
Set designer Mary Hamrick used cinder blocks and ropes to define the apartment’s areas, which worked well in this grungy cellar space that retains all the rough edges of the East Village during the 1970s.
“Not Afraid” written by Nora Sørena Casey; Directed by Ben Ferber
Includes depictions of gore, violence, animal death, and self-harm.
Produced by PowerOut and Associate Producer Jon Wojciechowski
Runs through November 4, 2014 at Under Saint Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, NYC
Tickets are available at smarttix.com or by phoning 212-868-4444.