Review of From Up Here
Kenny Barrett is the most feared/hated/anxious/not sorry person in his school. Sure, he did something bad, but can’t he just finish out his senior year of high school without all of these people staring at him? And worse, they’ve assigned him a mentor, like he’s the new kid or something, to get him “reacquainted” with student life, just because he threatened to take a few of those lives. He didn’t actually do it, so what’s the big deal? But despite his efforts to convince everyone that he’s fine, his mom fusses over him, his stepfather is desperate to win his affection, his sister just wants him to be normal, and the school is making him give a public apology. As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough.
Liz Flahive’s From Up Here is a wonderful contemporary family drama. Her writing is a study in naturalism, written with lines that overlap constantly and full of references to Facebook and homages to the teenage guys that write bad songs on their guitars. The play also examines sibling relationships, the struggles of a second marriage, and the arrival of a not-so-welcome aunt.
From the synopsis on the back cover, the reader understands that Kenny has done something bad, but Flahive never actually comes out and states what that is. Through hints in lines and action- such as Lauren mentioning a list and that Kenny “barely pointed it at anyone” and Kenny having his bad checked by adults- one can deduce what has happened, but it’s a wonderful choice of Flahive’s not to have anyone say it straight out.
I have to admit that, though Kenny is the focus of the story, I was more interested in two of the subplots: Mom Grace’s battle with new husband Daniel and Lauren’s relationship with Charlie. The parents’ struggles are ones that I imagine many adults in a second marriage go through: Daniel is trying to win over Grace’s teenage children, but he also wants to have a baby with Grace. Grace, however, wants none of it. Sadly, Daniel is sure that she’ll change her mind eventually, and it’s this that pushes Grace to spend the night in prison. To watch the pressure cooker of their relationship is fascinating.
The other budding bond is that of Lauren and Charlie. Charlie is in Kenny’s class and therefore two years older than Lauren, and she fascinates him. Besides being the younger sister of a would-be-murderer, there are (seemingly true) rumors going around that Lauren had sex with two guys at a recent party, rumors that Lauren makes no effort to deny (in fact, she says nothing at all.) It’s obvious that Lauren finds Charlie irritating, sometimes ignoring him and making fun of him at other times, including when they’re on a date, but this just seemed to make her more appealing to Charlie. He writes her bad songs and insists on dancing awkwardly and wonders out loud to her when they’re going to kiss. There’s something adorably puppy-like about Charlie, and eventually even the aloof Lauren finds something to like.
One of the most poignant exchanges in From Up Here happens between Kenny and Lauren at lunch. When no one else will sit near Kenny, his sister does it without a second thought. When they discuss his upcoming appointment with the school counselor, Lauren says, “What are you going to say when he asks why you didn’t do it?” “Uh,” Kenny stammers. “I guess I’d tell him I didn’t know if I’d be able to shoot myself afterwards… Because that’s what you have to do… You go in there and then, you know, you have to-“ “Shut up, you do not,” Lauren interrupts, upset. The scene flawlessy displays both of their characters as well as their love for one another.
Flahive’s script is filled with lines written in a style that dictate exactly when one actor is supposed to begin their next line. For example, one line reads Sort of, but / it’s… Aunt Caroline. I hated this; besides finding it incredibly distracting as a reader, I thought it was slightly offensive to actors and directors. The scenes are well-written enough that any performer or director worth their salt would realize how it’s meant to be presented, and the slashes that appear in sometimes every line are irritating. Sadly, this ruined some of the reading experience. It is a great play, though, and it has some wonderful monologues for both men and women, so check it out.
LAUREN: I love being small. Most people can pick me up.
DANIEL: You don’t want to get big and strong?
LAUREN: Yeah, I totally want to be a big strong girl. That’d be so exciting.
“Why can’t you draw a harp seal? I bet if you drew everyone their very own harp seal they’d chill out. Because harp seals are fuckin cute.”
LAUREN: Are you gonna name [your goldfish]?
KENNY: I’ll name it when it actually does something.