All of us have felt the bittersweet pangs of blossoming teen love but not all of us have suffered the crushing social media embarrassment of being caught making out at the New Waterford Tim Hortons.
Mature Young Adults, written by Wesley J. Colford and directed by Anna Spencer, is the Friday night offering in The Highland Arts Theatre’s summer season and should resonate with audiences of any age.
Caitlin is a New Waterford girl who meets Jonathan, a Halifax boy on his way to moving to Westmount (on the other side of the harbour from Sydney), at some sort of summer camp. They click and decide to pursue their relationship when his father moves to Cape Breton. She’s fourteen, he’s slightly older, and for reasons never made entirely clear, they decide to pursue their relationship in secret as if perhaps they’re a Cape Breton Romeo and Juliet.
Again, if you’re pursuing a secret relationship in New Waterford, maybe it is best to stay away from meeting up at the local children’s playground (the lady sitting behind me confidently whispered the name of the park to her companion) and the Plummer Avenue Tim’s. But I quibble.
The playground reminds the audience that Caitlin and Jonathan are still kids no matter how much they protest they are “mature young adults”. Caitlin enjoys the forbidden thrill of a secret boyfriend, the midnight texts, the heady physical intimacy, and lives it minute by minute. Jonathan idealizes their relationship as something permanent, even though, or maybe because, he watched his parents’ marriage crash and burn. More than their youth, more than the hazing Caitlin takes from her “friends” on social media, more than the disapproval of their families, it is Jonathan’s expectations that doom the relationship (and maybe more than that).
This play has had successful productions in Toronto and Halifax with this being its Cape Breton debut. This production benefits immeasurably from two fresh, brave, and layered performances from Bhreagh MacNeil as Caitlin and Jonathan Lewis as, well, Jonathan, guided by confident and perceptive direction by Anna Spencer.
Of the two characters, MacNeil’s Caitlin comes closer to being mature; perhaps because of her character’s less sheltered life in a hard scrabble town, MacNeil’s Cailtin has a practical eye on her relationship. She can enjoy the moment but she has a survivor’s instincts.
Lewis succeeds at a tougher acting job with his Jonathan having to be sweet and sensitive and appealing but slowly revealing a darker but still sympathetic side as the relationship proceeds. He subtly leads the audience into how his character, though manipulative, is the more psychologically fragile.
Anna Spencer’s biggest challenge as director was taking a relatively static script with the characters texting each other or having heartfelt chats around a picnic table and making it theatrically interesting. She made the wise choice and concentrated on the characters; the audience from the beginning became invested in Caitlin and Jonathan. All of their dialogue had nuance and honesty in its delivery and all of their physical interaction, no matter how squirm-inducing to some audience members, was believable and strengthened the slight story. The final scene, recalling the early days of their relationship, enacted with childish abandon as Jonathan and Caitlin fantasize their love story as a big screen Hollywood action romp, was a bittersweet delight of staging. The audience shares in the infectious joy of an innocent love but sees with in the shadow of its eventual and maybe inevitable fall.