Review: Selfie (Young People’s Theatre)

Young People’s Theatre presents Selfie, nuanced and thoughtful – great for teens, in Toronto

I arrived at Young People’s Theatre to see Selfie as an adult who works with a ton of teenagers and young adults (and has one of my own), skeptical in the extreme about work by adults about social media that’s aimed at teenagers. In general, I find it exhaustingly reductionist and at least five years behind schedule. Selfie, however, felt fresh and nuanced and appropriately difficult.

The small cast of three are high-school friends – two girls and a boy, Chris, Emma, and Lily. Chris and Lily are siblings, Emma and Lily are best friends, Chris and Emma have liked each other for a very long time. On the night of the first day back to school, Chris and Lily take advantage of absent parents to throw a rager of a house party that takes wild emotional turns and has unforeseen sequelae.

The piece is a little bit Rashomon and a little bit Breakfast Club too; all those meaty timeless themes of truth and what relationship it has to the facts, all those urgent unprocessed feelings. When things are reasonably good, Lily (Caroline Toal) talks a mile a minute and appears to have her feelings at least three times that fast, Chris (Christopher Allen) grapples to balance his retiring nature and simmering anxiety with the behavior expected of him as a star athlete, and Emma (Rachel Mutombo) is back after a summer away in Paris and is visibly still dis-located from her hometown life.

Toal has the most authentically teenage vibe, but all three are good – and good together. They gel very well as a triad, and the sweetness of their interactions gains in tension as events take their various turns, until in the emotional apex of the show you can absolutely see how awful it is to love and fear each other so intensely, radiating off them in miserable waves.

Selfie is really excellent work (also perhaps kind of getting too close to the sun for the high-school students in the audience, who couldn’t help but laugh nervously a lot). Playwright Christine Quintana turns up the intensity to 11 by the end, and director Stephen Colella keeps the cast completely in that place. I could feel the teenagers literally begging for just one joke, a sanctioned laugh to release the tension for a second, but Colella and the cast stayed true.

When you feel deeply for everyone, it’s good theatre. There were a some blocking choices I didn’t love, and I urgently wanted someone to fix Toal’s dress pockets so she wouldn’t be constantly worrying about hiking her dress up too high when she took her phone out of it, and the projections were fine but not really inspiring considering what’s possible these days, and even still I don’t care and neither should you. The combination of this playwright and these actors is probably going to inspire a rash of complicated triad plays in Toronto, and I don’t mind that at all, but Selfie is a sterling example of the thing and I am grateful to Quintana for turning her considerable talents to Theatre for Young Audiences.

Details:

  • Selfie is playing until May 11, 2018 at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East).
  • Shows run Monday – Sunday at various times. See the website for the full performance schedule.
  • Relaxed Performances are available. See here for details.
  • Tickets range from $10-$34 +HST and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-862-2222, ext. 2.

Photo of Christopher Allen, Caroline Toal and Rachel Mutombo by Ali Sultani.