Relive Your Prom With This Twisted Immersive Play
I spent about a quarter of my senior prom in the bathroom, either touching up my makeup and fixing my hair, or calling my friend’s older brother who had promised to bring us booze. The remainder of the time was spent avoiding dancing with my boyfriend—not because I didn’t like my boyfriend, but because I didn’t like dancing—and hovering by the snack table. At the afterparty, everyone drank too much, two people threw up, and one passed out. My senior prom, like many before it and many after it, was a complete shitshow. As fun as it was, prom didn’t really live up to the hype—I can’t think of a single reason why I’d want to relive that experience today.
Enter Okay, an immersive show by playwright and performance artist Taylor Mac and directed by Danny Sharron, which exclusively takes place in the girls’ room on the big night: prom ’03. Originally performed as a solo piece by Mac (which honestly, how?!), “Okay” centers on the prom experiences of seven distinct high schoolers: Jordan (Vanessa Bretas), the type-A student-council type; Josh (Will Dagger), a drunk sad boy who really just wants to make out with his sort-of-girlfriend, the highly neurotic, coked-out Trinity (Lindsay Rico); Lindsay’s even more coked-out friend, Trish (Manini Gupta), who’s over the whole prom thing; fresh-out-of-the-closet Tommy (Delano Montgomery), who spent his entire high school career living a lie; Mikey (Stephen Chacon), the promiscuous object of Tommy’s affections; and Stephanie (Eli Pauley), the prom queen, who spends the entirety of the play secretly giving birth in the bathroom stall.
“All of these characters are archetypes,” said Delano Montgomery (Tommy). “So in a way we’ve kind of got all of humanity in a condensed form in this bathroom. What I love about this play is how it cracks those tropes—the jock, the stoner, the gay kid—open, because the characters are all in an intimate space where they think they’re alone.”
You never see the dance floor, the afterparties, or any part of prom that takes place outside of the girls’ bathroom—but the set design, lighting, and sound make you feel like you’re there with the characters. A 2003 top-40-hits playlist and a bar complete with spiked punch makes you feel like you’re back at your own prom.
Okay doesn’t just take place at prom—it’s prom 2003, meaning the internet was still a strange, new world, “In Da Club” was the most popular song in the country, 9/11 was still a fresh wound on America’s consciousness, and President George W. Bush had declared war on Iraq a little over two months before Stephanie started having contractions in the girls’ room.
“Whenever we aren’t in the bathroom, we’re still there on the sidelines,” said Stephen Chacon (Mikey). “There are little nuggets of information revealed about how each characters’ prom is going that you can see while we’re on the sidelines. Because everyone has positive and very negative memories of prom, which was such a high-stakes night.”
Even though 2003 was over a decade ago, the themes in Okay—finding your place in the world, learning how to navigate almost-adulthood, being in love and thinking you’re in love, trying to understand global problems with a limited perspective—still ring true today.
“Certainly high school doesn’t change,” said Will Dagger, who plays Josh. “When you’re a teenager, the shit that’s going on in the world becomes a metaphor for what you’re dealing with interpersonally, and vice versa. The characters are all kind of wise clowns—we’re old enough to see what’s going on but also young enough to be dumb about it.”
“Taylor Mac captures the essence of children speaking about adult things and trying to be adults but not really knowing how,” agreed Eli Pauley, who plays the prom queen/mom-to-be.
Teenagers knowing-but-not-knowing what’s going on around them is one of the major themes of the monologue-heavy show, especially for the female characters. Vanessa Bretas’ character, Jordan, delivers a pretty on-the-nose opening monologue about menstruation and female empowerment, which sets the tone for the rest of the show.
But at the same time, the promgoers in Okay have a certain naiveté that was only possible before the rise of the internet age: they discuss Baghdad, AIDS famine, feminism, and femicide well enough, for a group of seventen and eighteen-year-olds, but their understanding of these phenomena is shaky at best.
“People in 2003 were a little more raw. Tommy doesn’t know shit,” Montgomery said of his character. “But you wouldn’t have Tommy now because kids have the internet, they have this huge way of discovering things.” Montgomery and Chacon both went to prom in 2010, long after the rise of social media and online news.
Manini Gupta, who plays Trish and whose own senior prom was in 2005, sees a better side of the pre-internet era. “I think of what my senior prom would look like now instead of then. I think we would’ve all been on our phones, Snapchatting and on Instagram. Meanwhile at my prom, everyone was doing crazy shit and gossiping about it in the bathroom.”
That’s not to say there was no internet in 2003, when the show takes place. Chacon’s character, Mikey, has a monologue that’s partially about his personal website, but it was a very different kind of online presence. “Now everything is very sarcastic, but at the time posting online was so sincere. There wasn’t a consciousness that everyone in the world could see this,” Chacon said. “It was like a diary. But now everyone has their ‘brand’ online.”
At Okay you don’t see anything that happens on the dance floor; every moment of prom, from hookups to drugs to Stephanie’s water breaking, happens in the smallest, most intimate place: the bathroom. Just like a 2003 blog, the girls’ room on prom night is a place where you go to let out your feelings and drop the façade you’ve been showing the world. It’s pretty gross and beautiful and fucked up, and unlike real-life prom night, it surpasses the hype.
You can catch Okay at Central Arts on Friday, May 27th at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 28th at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are available here.
Images courtesy of A Certain Light Photography.
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