Prolific playwright Stephen Brown may be heading toward his late thirties, but he looks at least a decade younger and has managed to retain incredible knowledge of and insights into all the angst and anger of teen and preteen life. Whether his plays revolve around the actions and passions of a troubled young boy or girl, they always ring true, inciting gasps of recognition from his audience.
The NYC-based writer, who recently graduated from Julliard’s prestigious Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, has been garnering a respectable roster of awards and recognitions for his work all along. I’m particularly impressed by the fact that he’s managed to write seven highly original plays in the past six years alone (while also engaged in other creative projects). Three of his recent efforts have been produced by what we can now call his burgeoning “southern fan base.”
Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) professional resident company Theatre Lab, which specializes in new plays, co-premiered Brown’s “everything is super great” (a TimeOut NY Critic’s Pick) to much fanfare in 2019. You might recall reading my rave review, just this past July, of New City Player’s Florida premiere of “Little Montgomery.” And now Theatre Lab is presenting yet another Florida premiere of Brown’s latest work. They chose The Many Wondrous Realities of JASMINE STARR-KIDD to open the 2023-24 season of their Heckscher Theatre for Families division.
Let me say up front that while middle schoolers and above will definitely enjoy and relate to this 90-minute (no intermission) play – flawlessly directed by Theatre Lab’s own, award-winning producing artistic director Matt Stabile – this is not a “children’s theater”-type show but rather boasts the same high-caliber performance and professional production quality that Theatre Lab is famous for. “Jasmine Starr-Kidd” is hilarious and touching and incredibly well-acted, and so contemporary in tone that your kids will totally get the latest digital references, while messaging about parental anxieties and post-divorce family dynamics might hit a deeper chord among their elders.
Who’s watching the kid? Mom Kendra (Sheena O. Murray) center can’t believe what
she’s come home to as she laces into clueless dad Doug (Timothy Mark Davis) left, and
their precociously gifted daughter Jasmine (Sarah Remeo), right.
I’ll add here that if you know someone who enjoys sci fi, AI, time-travel stories, physical comedy and/or innovatively outrageous scenarios (maybe like all of us?), tell them to run to see this show. Better yet, bring along a kid or kids from grades 4 to 12 (all students under 18 get free admission). Or come alone; both the adult and child in you will thank you. As will your pocketbook, for whether or not you are accompanied by a non-paying student, the price of these family shows are close to half that of regular Theatre Lab productions.
I can’t think of a better way to introduce the whole family to the wonders of live theater! And there’s a bonus: If your child loves to write or is just a creative, curious sort, come an hour early (arrive at 2; show starts at 3 pm) so they can join a free writing class. Under the company’s ongoing The Future PAGES Project, Theatre Lab has partnered with 1,000 students from area schools and organizations to present a series of free creative writing workshops, followed by a field trip to the theater to see the show. But even if your youngster’s school didn’t sign up, they are still welcome to attend an hour-long workshop before each matinee and later submit their original piece of writing for performance consideration. Taking their cue from Jasmine Starr-Kidd’s time travel escapades, this year’s theme is “Backwards & Forwards.”
The play’s plot centers on the stubbornly desperate and dangerous efforts of 12-year-old Jasmine (Sarah Romeo) to reunite her recently divorced parents so that her mother can spend more time at home (she currently lives with her dad while mom frequently travels for work). In other words, she wishes for a return to the idealized family life she enjoyed in the past.
Jasmine’s yearnings may be common among children of divorce, but her method of achieving that goal couldn’t be more extraordinary. We first meet her mom, brilliant scientist Dr. Kendra Starr-Kidd (Sheena O. Murray) presenting a TED Talk expanding on Einstein’s theory of how gravitational forces in the universe can bend space and time.
In contrast, her dad, sad-but-trying, middle-school science teacher Doug (Timothy Mark Davis) hosts a nerdy science video series for kids. One episode features a humorously primitive cartoon cutout character stranded on a desert island who needs to use “available objects” to generate a signal from a light bulb. The homemade electrical charge he attempts to create reminded me of a homespun battery project my dad helped me with in second grade. And for whom I now have a far-too-belated sense of respect because, unlike Doug’s failure, mine actually worked!
Sheena O. Murray, playing renowned scientist Dr. Kendra Starr-Kidd, gives a TED Talk
on the gravitational variables of space and time. But she has little time for her equally
brilliant 12-year-old daughter. Don’t miss The Many Wondrous Realities of
JASMINE STARR-KIDD by Stephen Brown, playing now through Oct. 8 at FAU’s
Theatre Lab in Boca Raton. All photos by Morgan Sophia Photography.