Teen Monologues opens with a cacophony of statistics. They rain so hard I can’t even get them down: facts spewing in every direction, tumbling from mouths, colliding with each other, flooding the stage. Seven in 10 teens say they … something. One in four teens has had … I missed that one, too. Twenty percent of teens say they drank or did drugs the last time they … what? I didn’t catch that.
And then someone yells “Stop!”
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- TEEN SKILLS : Teen Monologues actors Jacob Yoder (left) and Danielle Diaz (right) are pictured with stage manager/assistant director Michael Tutino (center).
It’s the perfect metaphor for the deluge of well-intentioned information—of the sort found in nurse’s office brochures and classes with names like “Teen Skills”—that so often pours onto the heads of young people entering adulthood. But while there are ever so many numbers available about sex, and teen pregnancy, and drugs, there’s often very little honest personal communication between teens of the opposite sex, or between teens and their parents. That reticence seems almost built into American culture; many of our parents were uncomfortable talking about sex with their parents, so they shied away from having the Talk with us—assuming, as Bob Peterson’s dad-character does, that “I figured it out and they will too.”
These are the observations made by Teen Monologues, a play produced by CAPSLO Health Services and directed by John Battalino. Francine Levin, CAPSLO’s prevention and health education supervisor, created the show in 2003 after attending Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, and the production roughly follows that show’s format. The stories of real teens who’ve dealt with unwanted pregnancy or struggled with difficult questions about sex and relationships are recorded and converted into moving—though occasionally quite funny—monologues and short scenes.
While each actor in this cast of six teenagers and three grownups takes on multiple roles, the show is stitched together by the story of young couple Megan and Eric, played by Sophia Longas and Nate Davis. We witness the couple’s private moments together, and these scenes, though sometimes sweet, are often fraught with mutual misunderstanding. As an audience, we pick up on the lack of communication, perhaps because we’ve seen each of these characters interact with friends and parents.
A scene in which Megan and Eric tell their respective parents about one another is particularly enlightening. Megan’s mom, played by Michele Brooks, is immediately mistrustful and prying, and their terse exchange escalates into a door-slamming fight. Meanwhile, Eric’s dad, played by Bob Peterson, has a more relaxed attitude toward his son’s relationship, waxing nostalgic toward the end of their conversation about first times.
A similar scene contrasts Megan’s chat with a girlfriend (a bossy Bree Foerster) with Eric’s talk with a guy friend (Jacob Yoder, as the ultimate dude). The topic of choice is the Big Night, when Megan and Eric—each one pretending to be staying over at a friend’s—will spend the night together. Megan is advised to be extra flirty, while Eric is instructed to act coolly aloof. When they finally meet up, each one acts awkwardly, grossly out of character, with Megan practically throwing herself at Eric while he all but ignores her.
It’s these scenes that make me remember what 15 felt like, because until Teen Monologues, I’d kind of forgotten about being a teen. I’d forgotten how every utterance from one’s crush could carry such significance, how an exchange like this could make you feel floaty for hours:
BOY: Maybe I’ll see you there.
I’d also forgotten about being incapacitatingly self-conscious; about being unforgivably, inexplicably moody; about small setbacks spelling the end of the world. But the cast of Monologues brought it all back. I understood, for example, why Eric hung up the phone after Megan told him she was pregnant, blurting, “I can’t deal with this right now.”
Perhaps because of the age-appropriate cast, most of the portrayals felt raw and honest. Only in a couple places, during longer monologues, did I notice the acting starting to fall flat, beginning to sound less like a constant flow of spontaneous thoughts and more like a speech committed dutifully to memory. But hey, that’s what makes monologues so hard.
The show’s vignettes are interspersed occasionally with a dry recital of facts and survey answers to questions like, why do teens have sex anyway?
Again, the cacophony of answers pours forth: “To fit in.” “Curiosity.” “To see how it feels.” “It makes them feel older.” “They think they’re in love.”
Every year, Levin and a group of youth writers and CAPSLO staff members have updated and revised the show, tossing out lines (or even whole scenes) that have become outdated, and replacing them with fresher, more timely material. This year’s production makes an effort to highlight the Latino experience through Danielle Diaz’s character Sandra, in an effort to reach out to a demographic that had been conspicuously absent in years prior.
While the show mostly centers on the experiences of young people, there are monologues from parents’ perspectives as well. Maureen McGee, in one particularly effective piece, describes her utter squeamishness at explaining to her son where babies come from. (He’d heard from the kids at school that babies happen when men and women “bump uglies,” she recalls, a disturbed look on her face.)
But the emotional crux of the evening arrives with a powerful monologue given by Alison Warren, describing an unhealthy relationship in which her character is pressured into having sex, becomes pregnant, and is left by her immature, self-centered boyfriend to raise her daughter on her own. Her character’s difficulty reconciling her bitterness with her former boyfriend with her love for her child draws a startling range of emotional reactions in her audience, making that piece easily the most riveting, hitting home harder than the scariest statistic.
Arts Editor Anna Weltner wants to know where babies come from. Give her the Talk at firstname.lastname@example.org.