Anthony J. Piccione
- New York Critic
Anyone who knows me well knows that bullying in schools is an issue that is very close to my heart. Especially in cases where it can involve physical abuse, hearing about such incidents can be depressing and disturbing to me, and also to many others. Some cases have been so extreme, they receive nationwide attention, and are never forgotten by the communities affected. Such is the case with the story told in Hazelwood Jr. High, which I attended this past weekend in Brooklyn at Mayday Space.
Produced by Cupcake Lady Productions and directed by Sean Pollack, the play is based on the true story of the murder of Shanda Sharer, a 12 year old girl who was brutally tortured and burned alive, as part of a cruel plot involving four older girls, after one became jealous of Shanda for her relationship with another girl that they both loved. While the play initially focuses on the love triangle that I refer to, it gradually builds up toward an intense climax that keeps one on the edge of their seat, and ultimately leaves you shocked and heartbroken.
In terms of the production itself, the part that stands out immediately is the way the audience is positioned, as the show takes place. The play is an immersive theatrical experience, and the audience is seated in the middle of a classroom, while the action plays out around the entire center of the room. I considered this to be an intriguing approach that was taken, and while you sometimes have to be willing to turn around in your seat to watch what’s going on at various moments, it was still something that I enjoyed, in that I was able to see the action up close and all around me, in ways that can’t be said about most other shows.
The production has a minimalistic set, as while the entire production is in a classroom with boxes and chairs, the play depicts events that occur at various locations. Instead, certain lighting effects – as well as choosing to do each scene at different corners – are largely utilized to show the audience how each scene takes place at various areas. As the play progresses, these lighting choices are crucial in depicting the mood of each scene, and also enhance the emotions that audience members – or at least yours truly, anyway – felt as they watched some of the more intense moments of the play.
Strengthening this emotional aspect of the production are the captivating performances of its cast. Portraying the role of Shanda is Eve Kummer-Landau, who evokes all the innocence – and later fear – that one might expect from her character. Patricia Yeazell portrays the role of Melinda Loveless, capturing much of the jealously, selfishness and extreme cruelty of her real-life character, while Kristen Dawn-Dumas portrays Laurie, her malicious and mentally disturbed partner in crime. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Bear Spiegel, caught in the middle of the love triangle also involving Shanda and Melinda, and Marielle Young and Sofie Zamchick as Toni and Hope respectively, who capture the fear and regret that each of these two friends clearly have, as the events of the play occur.
While I was able to keep my composure as I watched the show, I’ll admit to feeling a bit emotional after arriving at home later that night, as I was still thinking about the production. The feelings that the play left me with was comparable to how I felt after I first saw one of my favorite plays of all time – The Laramie Project – which dealt with a somewhat similar event. Potential theatergoers should be advised that the play contains intense moments, with the climactic moment being a particularly dark moment, as the subject matter might suggest. Still, I personally believe this play tells a very powerful story, and touches on issues – some of which, in my opinion, don’t get talked about enough – that are just as relevant to young people today as they were in the 1990s. If you get the chance, I would especially recommend it to anyone interested in immersive theatre productions, as well as those interested in plays that deal with issues of as bullying and mental health.
Hazelwood Jr. High – produced by Cupcake Lady Productions – runs at Mayday Space from November 11- 20. For more information, please visit www.cupcakeladyproductions.com.
This review was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist based in New York City.
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