THE BASICS: LAYLA’S ROOM, a 2016 play by Sabrina Mahfouz presented by Subversive Theatre as part of its Subversive Youth series, directed by Kelly Beuth, starring emerging actors of Buffalo’s Performing Arts High School has two more engagements, Friday, June 14 at 7:30 and Saturday June 15 at 2:00 p.m. at The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave., third floor (462-5549). www.subversivetheatre.org Tickets $20 ($10 for students) Runtime: 50 minutes without intermission, but allow time for a Q&A afterward.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Layla, a teenage schoolgirl, is first roughly groped by a gang led by her best friend’s new boyfriend who smirks about it in school, but then later she is subjected to an even more egregious violation. The adults in Layla’s life react with varying levels of support, ultimately leaving it with Layla to find her inner voice and strength.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This is the 9th installment of Subversive Theatre Collective’s “Subversive Youth Series” and is presented in partnership with Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York. The fine emerging actors come from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts (BAVPA) and several of them were recently in a production of Les Misérables, which won the 2019 “Kenny Award” for Outstanding Dramatic Performance. Their director is the Lead Theatre Teacher at BAVPA, Kelly M. Beuth, or “Miss Beuth” as she is known to many, who was recently surprised and honored to have the BAVPA students’ yearbook dedicated to her.
In her director’s notes Beuth writes: “LAYLA’S ROOM is a story of betrayal on so many levels…. Layla is you. Layla is me. Layla is every woman who has struggled with harassment and unwanted catcalls, touching, groping, sexual assault, and just plain disrespect. Layla is every woman who has ever felt silenced in the face of her truth and pushed forward to OWN her past and pain, heal from it, and navigate the direction of her future.”
Beuth chose to cast five different young women in the role of Layla. It was an inspired choice as it reinforces the point that Layla is Everywoman, but it also lets five emerging actors take the lead role. It’s not at all confusing for the audience, since as each “new” Layla appears, she speaks a line or two in tandem with the previous Layla, and then just moves on from there.
The five Laylas in order of appearance (not as pictured) were Ariana Ballard, Molly/Oliver Lewars, Janay Burnell, Melisa Rivas Alvarez, and Isabella Rodriguez. Best friend Monica was played by Amy Houck and her bad-boyfriend Joe was Atraeu Richardson. Layla’s friend Reece was Rahim Dunston, her Mom was Treasure Johnson, and her Dad was Molly/Oliver Lewars.
The play is by a British playwright and there were several “Britishisms” in the script, but it’s not really noticeable.
It’s noteworthy that at the same time, across town, the Alleyway Theatre is presenting GIRLS WHO WALKED ON GLASS, which if not a sequel to LAYLA’S ROOM, at least suggests some answers to “what becomes of our Laylas when they are in their 20s and 30s?”
In her Director’s Note Beuth also writes: “I’ve had many individuals look at the theatre work I do with students and say to me: ‘How can you do such ‘edgy’ work on such personal topics with your students? These are just teenagers… what could they have possibly experienced?’ … If I could tell you the stories I have heard over the years, OR EVEN IN JUST THE PAST MONTH: young women raped, harassed, touched without consent, objectified, assaulted, slut-shamed, gender stereotyped… fighting to overcome overwhelming pain and betrayal and violation that is almost beyond comprehension.”
As I said of the cast of young professionals at the Alleyway, they are very brave, and I say that of the high school cast of LAYLA’S ROOM as well. There are two more performances, today Friday at 7:30 p.m. and the last show, Saturday, June 15 at 2:00 p.m.