Review: THE ’94 CLUB

by Lynn on May 3, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Shaina Silver-Baird, Thalia Kane
Photo: Angela Besharah


At the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Thalia Gonzalez Kane

Directed and choreographed by Monica Dottor

Set by Monica Dottor

Costumes by Monica Dottor and Thalia Kane

Lighting by Lily Cardiff and Thalia Kane

Sound by Thalia Kane

Cast: Tamara Almeida

Jeanie Calleja

Thalia Gonzalez Kane

Lily Scriven

Shaina Silver-Baird

The play is smart, unsettling, provocative about today’s teen girls and the pressures they have to live with. The production by Monica Dottor is typical of her artistic gift for story telling through word, movement and dance. And the cast is superb.

The Story. Jenn, Tommi, Laura and Sarah are 15-years-old, from a small town and go to the same school. Boys, sex and virginity occupy their time. Jenn boasts about her many sexual conquests, who she’s slept with or to whom she’s given blow jobs. Tommi and Sarah are best friends, perhaps soul mates according to Sarah. Sarah worries that should she get a boyfriend she will be thought a bad kisser, so she and Tommi practice on each other to prepare. Laura has added pressure because her mother, Mrs. Wright, is the school guidance counsellor.

To give themselves a jump-start on life and sexuality Jenn comes up with a game they all play. If they ‘hook-up’ with a boy (have sex) that constitutes a certain number of points. If they give a ‘hand-job’ or ‘blow-job’ that’s another set of points. Jenn keeps score. They call themselves The ’94 Whores because they all were born in 1994.

Some of them have doubts about the game and themselves in the game, their sexuality, their identities and their ideas of self. Jenn seems to be the confident one. Then things escalate out of control. The programme notes that the play is based on real events.

The Production. Monica Dottor is a quadruple threat on this production as: director/choreographer/set designer and co-costume designer. Not one idea is wasted in this tight, provocative, unsettling production. Stacks of books a teen might read in school are arranged around the playing space. A network of criss-crossing wires/strings spreads in the are across the playing space. The characters carefully negotiate through and around this intricate pattern of wires something like negotiating through the various pitfalls, roadblocks of being a teen in our modern world. The pattern of wires/strings reminds me of the patterns in a cat cradle game and indeed Sarah (Shaina Silver-Baird) and Tommi (Thalia Kane) play that game at one point in the play.

Jenn kneels down on the floor facing downstage. She draws a chart in chalk on the floor listing the names of the four girls and the scores due to their sexual encounters as the time goes on. The chart faces upstage towards Jenn. She keeps track of the scores for each girl as they have more encounters with boys and men and perhaps even other girls.

As Jenn, Tamara Almeida is all swagger and boastful but she makes us watchful for any crack in this tough exterior. Lily Scriven plays Laura as a young woman worried that her mother will find out and concerned she might be made fun of because she is still a virgin. The concern, angst and worry is so natural in Scrivener’s performance. Shaina Silver-Baird as Sarah and Thalia Kane as Tommi give tender, sensitive performances of two close friends who are soul mates. As Tommi, Kane is confident in her self-awareness and so understanding for Sarah who is not sure of her own sexuality. For her part, Silver-Baird plays Sarah as confused, fragile-minded and in denial at what is actually happening to her. You ache for all of them.

I have a quibble in logistics. Playwright Thalia Gonzalez Kane reveals the names of the characters gradually as the play unfolds. We hear Sarah and Jenn referred to first by the others. While Laura is referred to by her mother Mrs. Wright, there is nothing up to that point to indicate that Laura is one of the four girls. And only later do we hear the name Tommi mentioned. That’s why the chart that Jenn draws on the floor with the four girls’ names is so important. So I am puzzled as to why director Monica Dottor chose to have the chart face upstage (making it difficult to read the names upside down) and not drawn facing downstage, so the audience could read the names quickly and not be confused as to what the names of the girls were. I have seen a lot of Dottor’s work and it is exemplary. She always engages me in her thinking, but this decision regarding the direction of the chart is puzzling. We find out the names eventually, but learning who was who quicker would have been helpful.

 Comment. In the last few weeks we have seen several plays dealing with teenage angst: I and You (facing life and not giving in to illness), Girls Like That (bullying, body image and the dangers of technology), Selfie, again about teenaged angst and the power of the internet going viral).

I loved I and You.  I think The ’94 Club is right up there with it for quality, brains and heart. This self-assured, intelligent, perceptive play is Thalia Gonzalez Kane’s first effort as a playwright. Astonishing. She has created four distinct characters each with her own issues, each credible as teens and none of them is a cliché. The adults referenced are found lacking: parents who don’t seem to care about their daughter’s behaviour, even Mrs. Wright as played by Jeanie Calleja is harried, frustrated and perhaps, as a result, insensitive to the issues of these young women.

Quibble aside, I am grateful to have seen this striking play given such an impressive production. More please. Soon.

Presented by Crave Productions:

Opened: May 2, 2018.

Closes: May 12, 2018.

Running Time: 65 minutes.

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