Sex, Drugs and Texas 1985 — What’s not to like? A lot if you’re abused, pregnant and still in high school. That pretty much sums up “About a Girl,” which is set in the fictionalized town of Highland, Texas, and dramatizes what happens when everything you have been taught about the world is challenged.
Written and produced by Eddy Roger Parker, the play with a love triangle will be performed as part of the 9th Annual Capital Fringe Festival from July 10-27. It stars real-life friends Heather Norcross as Jett, Jenni Patton as Justine, Ben Norcross as Ashley, and Matt Williams as Meat.
A synopsis goes something like this: high school senior Ashley Cooper’s life is upended after he meets the troubled Justine Courson. He rushes to her rescue but realizes he is in way over his head. When Justine’s father loses his job and her family is forced to move, she lets Ashley go in the hopes that his life will be better without her in it. Cooper finds solace in Justine’s friend Jett Briggs but their relationship is challenged when Justine reappears pregnant with no one else to turn to but the father of her baby and her best friend. All three are caught in a trap as they are forced to deal with issues in the attempt to determine what is the right thing to do in the Lone Star State.
Playwright Parker grew up near Houston, Texas, and earned both a B.A. and a M.A. in Southern History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He later worked at The Historic New Orleans Collection in Louisiana, which was home to Tennessee Williams’ papers and works.
He moved to Alexandria in 2010 where he got involved in the Little Theatre of Alexandria. It was at an LTA writing class that “About a Girl” got its start. The play was first read there during LTA’s 10-minute play festival last year, and is directed, acted and crewed by all LTA veterans.
In his author’s notes, Parker writes that “About a Girl” centers on a group of teenagers forced to make choices, usually bad ones, that they are not prepared emotionally or mentally to deal with.
“These characters find themselves surrounded by problems that grown adults would have a hard time resolving with little or no support from anyone else but each other,” Parker wrote.
In the play directed by Eddie Paige, Matt Williams plays the role of Meat McKenzie, a lazy, dumb jock character who’s a child of privilege.
“He’s part of the ‘Good Old Boys’ club, and acts with the knowledge that his privilege will get him out of most of life’s major dilemmas,” said Williams. “He’s a little more insecure than he lets on, and you really do see some growth from Meat in later scenes.”
Williams said the biggest challenge in playing the role was “being fair to him early on, knowing that the audience needs to see that he’s a spoiled rich kid, and balance that with genuine humanity and caring.”
He added, “Luckily, he’s given lots of room for growth in the script, so it’s not too tough to show both sides of him during his scenes.”
Because the play deals with dependency and addiction issues, Williams said he hopes people will recognize the fine script writing and the importance of having loyal relationships, as well as knowing when you can’t help a person anymore.
Jenni Patton plays the role of volatile and sweet Justine, the youngest in the group. “She comes from a really terrible home situation and has recently lost her first boyfriend in a motorcycle accident, so she's got a lot of stuff to deal with,” said Patton.
The challenge was Justine’s emotional gauntlet over the course of the play. She said, “It’s been a challenge to build each of those emotions believably — from giddy drunk to rage to panic.”
Patton said, “In the end, I think the play is about friendship, growing up, and learning to learn from mistakes.” And she wishes that despite everything that happens, the audience will come away hopeful.
Heather Norcross plays the complicated role of Jett Briggs. “She has this creative side that she keeps to herself while projecting her rebel exterior to the world,” she said. “Jett has built this wall around herself for protection — if everyone thinks she is a badass, they won’t hurt her.”
The challenge was playing a drug addict high on amphetamines. “I am probably the most straight-edge person; I never associated with people who did drugs,” she said. To prepare for her role, she did Google searches of “people high on drugs.”
She said the message of this play is that all of our choices have consequences. “Sometimes in high school we don’t realize this completely … We have to step out of ourselves and realize that it is not always about what makes us happy in a single moment that moment can affect us, and everyone around us, for years to come.”
Ben Norcross plays the role of Ashley Cooper, a high school football star and son of an evangelist. “He pretty much feels that he can do no wrong and he is in complete control,” said Norcross. “He isn’t exactly prepared for what happens to him in life.”
The challenge was actually playing a person in high school. “I am over 30 and getting back in that mindset of being invincible was a challenge,” he said.
He said the overall message of the play is to “think before you act; a single mistake can have dire consequences and haunt you.”
“About a Girl” will be performed at the Capital Fringe Festival on July 11 at 8:15 p.m., July 15 at 6 p.m., July 20 at 4:45 p.m., July 23 at 8:15 p.m., and July 26 at 4:45 p.m. at the Goethe Institut – Gallery, 812 7th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. Visit www.capitalfringe.org or call 866-811-4111.