by Jamie Norris
Green Thumb Theatre
Granville Island Stage
Surrey Arts Centre
Jamie Norris’ new play for Green Thumb is like an episode of Law and Order dressed up with the visual and sonic bombardment that 17-year-olds live inside every day. Instead of focusing on the old fart TV cops, Speed takes us inside the experience of teenage Jessica, who on the night of her high school grad has gotten into some very deep shit.
The play opens with a kaleidoscopic light show cum video game and earsplitting soundtrack that climaxes in a terrible accident. Jessica (Jennifer Paterson) and boyfriend Nash (Nikolas Longstaff), driving her absentee father’s Porsche, have hit a guy and killed him. Nash makes it a fatal hit-and-run when he convinces Jessica to leave the scene, go home, call the cops, and report that her father’s car was stolen earlier that evening.
The rest of the play takes place in an interrogation room at the police station where Jessica has gone to give her statement. The cop (Dawn Petten) obviously doesn’t believe Jessica’s story, and makes her sweat it out. The extended interrogation scene is punctuated by flashbacks to Jessica and Nash’s courtship and the earlier events of the evening leading up to their tragic, life-altering mistakes.
The obvious lessons—don’t speed, don’t lie, take responsibility for your actions—are complicated by a variety of plot-thickeners. Jessica’s mother has recently died and her father has all-too-quickly remarried. Jessica wants to go to Montreal to study fashion design; daddy wants her to do pre-law. Semi-rebellious Jessica is also her class valedictorian. Jessica and Nash have issues. Some of these things have something to do with what has happened this night, but the play feels overplotted.
Norris’ intelligent script also feels familiar and just a little plodding. Ultimately, the story is overtaken, though not quite overwhelmed, by the mise en scène—Ereca Hassell’s busy, colourful lighting, DJ Joel Etkin’s loud and powerful soundscape encompassing everything from hypno-tech to heavy metal, and the videos by Jamie Nesbitt and Robin Greenwood that play on the wall behind the interrogation table. Often we see live video of Jessica projected behind her while we watch her, just like at a pop concert. Director Patrick McDonald weaves all this sensory stimulation together into a package that teen audiences will likely find much more familiar and attractive than your standard theatrical staging.
What I’ll remember most about this show, though, is Jennifer Paterson’s remarkable performance as Jessica: anguished, complicated, and entirely convincing. Longstaff holds up Nash’s end well, too. His big fight with Jessica is terrific, and his break dancing segment is sick! Dawn Petten is fine as always, though her cop seems slightly generic.
Speed is not just a play teens should see; it’s a play they might actually want to see.