THOUGHTS: ‘all of what you love and none of what you hate’ at San Francisco Playhouse

Teen and baby

Girl A (Britney Frazier) cares for a newborn baby
Photo Credit: Kevin Levin

Scholars call the era we live in now “the information age.” The digital revolution gave rise to a way of life that involves near constant immersion in a mediated world and its associated messaging. It is a world in which we can ask a question and get thousands of answers in seconds, but still have no real sense of which of those answers is correct. It’s a world in which self-presentation and social communication are tied to soundbyte advertising profiles. All of what you love and none of what you hate is very much a product of the information age. Characters introduce themselves through their Internet dating site profile answers or a laundry list of their Facebook likes. Friends appear on stage together yet only communicate though cellphones. Google searches are projected on large screens. At the same time, the play is pure theatre, exploring human experience and human emotion through physical movement and face-to-face interpersonal interaction as it tells the story of a 15-year old girl navigating the first few hours after seeing a blue plus appear on a home pregnancy test.

From the moment she first appears onstage, slumped over, hoodie up, elbows on knees, and arms covering her face in a classic pose of teenage grief and self-protection, lead actress Britney Frazier demonstrates her skill at relaying inner life through her facial expression and physicality. Although the supporting characters of her mother, boyfriend, and best friend are lively and engaging, it is Frazier’s character’s eyes, ears, and mind that filters the world of the play—to the point that the others begin to say “blah, blah, blah” as she tunes them out. In that sense, the theatre-in-the-round staging of the play was somewhat limiting: I wanted to experience the play through Frazier’s reactions, but my view of her was often blocked. In other ways, the theatre-in-the-round staging supported some of the elements of storytelling that are unique to theatre as a medium and are used particularly well in this play. A nouveau Greek Chorus circles around the stage dressed in black hoodies, sometimes physical and auditory manifestations of the main characters fears and sometimes gossiping, judging, social commentators. A mere two rows of seats on each side of the stage created an intimacy that allowed the chorus to come close to the audience and make eye contact, or even hand us abstinence-only propaganda.

The play is an innovative and boundary pushing in form—but becomes increasingly

Teenage dilemmas

Girl A (Britney Frazier) considers taking drastic action.
Photo credit: Ken Levin

abstract as it progresses, and several people left the theatre commenting that they liked it but felt that they didn’t really “get it.” I sometimes felt I was being asked to cognitively engage with it so heavily it was at the expense of emotional engagement.

Too, cognitively engaging instead of emotionally engaging meant that I sometimes questioned plot points. I didn’t understand why the main character never confided in her mother—even though it seemed clear that a 31-year-old with a 15-year-old daughter must have experienced teen pregnancy in her own past. I didn’t fully believe that Googling ‘abortion’ would only lead to anti-choice scare sites (I tested it after the play and Planned Parenthood’s website came up near the top). That said, in an era where there are political factions on a systematic mission to dismantle information about and access to reproductive services the play makes a strong point about the dangers of this.

All of what you love and none of what you hate is a layered, semi-immersive abstract journey into the complex experience of a girl at a critical, emotional turning point in her life, and as such it is an experience that you can’t get anywhere but inside a theatre. I would love to see this play taken on by Educational Theatre programs—it is a piece that I think speaks to a teen audience and one that is artistically and thematically rich in a way that would compliment the unpacking and exploration such programs provide.

Reasons to go:

  • DiversityOnStage with all four roles played by actors of color.
  • DiversityOnPage: support innovative, up-and-coming writer of color Philip Howze
  • It is rare to see a play that takes such advantage of theatre as a unique medium that you can’t image seeing the story told any other way
  • Although San Francisco Playhouse’s Sandbox Series is meant as low-budget way to provide a platform for new playwrights, the production quality of the play was high. I never once felt like I was seeing anything less than a fully formed production. I particularly liked how the upside-down bedroom hanging from the ceiling mirrored the chaotic inner world and ruptured childhood of the main character.

Who should go:

  • Teens and adults—and I would particularly love to see schools at this play. This does not at all mean that I think only teens should see it, it is a sophisticated play aimed at a general audience, but my take on the composition of the audience was that young people were not seeing it and that is a shame.

Tips:

  • They play starts a little late but make sure you arrive on time, there is no late seating.
  • The Strand has a café in the waiting room so it doesn’t hurt to arrive a little early!
  • Don’t stay home because you feel like you don’t have time to go. With a running time of 70 minutes with no intermission it is easy to fit it into your day.
  • Go soon: this is the last weekend of the play!

Themes: Teen pregnancy

Advisory: Representation of sex on stage (fully clothed).

Show information: all of what you love and none of what you hate is Playing The Rueff at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street.

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