Sunday, June 23, 2024

Fear and Friendship in Chicago, a Review of Nora Casey’s “Not Afraid”

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.

notafraid1Two 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.

notafraid1aA 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.

notafraid2Since 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.

notafraid3Despite the shortcomings of the script, it’s a credit to the cast that they do an excellent job of making us care about their characters.

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.

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notafraid6“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.

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All photos by Line Krogh and Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.
Linda Ann Lo Schiavo
Linda Ann Lo Schiavo
Native New Yorker LindaAnn Loschiavo has been on the staff of L’IDEA since 1996 and coordinated L’IDEA’s 25th Silver Annniversary Extravaganza. Her works for the stage include “Courting Mae West,” which has been seen in New York City theatres and most recently in Melbourne, Australia. Her writing has appeared in “Anti-Italianism: Essays on a Prejudice” [Macmillan, 2011] as well as numerous magazines, literary journals, and newspapers. Her forthcoming book “Flirting with the Fire Gods” will be published by L’IDEA Press later this year. Loschiavo is the Editor for the English Language section of L”IDEA.

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