It’s OK, Boomer.
No, seriously, it’s going to be OK. Is Urbanite’s “Sender” quintessentially millennial?
Yes and no.
It’s a play about finding your way in your 20s, and about negotiating relationships as your life changes.
Generation X had “St. Elmo’s Fire” and, for the ones on the tail end, “Reality Bites.” Before them, the Boomers had “Easy Rider” and “The Graduate.”
The message doesn’t change, y’all. The medium might, but the message, at its core, remains eternal: It takes courage to be an adult.
Brendan Ragan directs this paen to the transitional time between youth and adulthood. The small cast (everything at Urbanite, by design, is a small cast) of four weaves themselves in—and out—of each others’ lives before our eyes. Each of the foursome shows us a different side of the tragedy borne of outgrowing relationships you desperately don’t want to outgrow.
Through Feb. 23: Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
Urbanite Theatre1487 Second St., Sarasota
It’s clear from the get-go that we’re supposed to sympathize the most with Mary Williamson’s Tess, and we do. Her boyfriend Lynx (played by L. James) disappeared, and, ultimately, she gave him up for dead (as did his friends.) When he reappears, though, it isn’t a happy reunion; she’s pissed. And who can blame her? He wasn’t kidnapped by an international drug cartel; he wasn’t lying comatose, found with no identification on him; he wasn’t conscripted into the CIA. It all just got to be too much for him and he dropped out. What a douche.
Or is he? Tess drinks a lot; we can assume it got worse after Lynx disappeared, but the mentally healthy often find ways to cope with tragedy other than by diving headfirst into a year-long pool of whiskey. His best friend (Ryan Leonard’s Jordan) doesn’t offer support but cloying, suffocating admiration (and a more than a little lust), and his best friend’s partner, Cassandra (a delicious DeAnna Wright) has no patience for a Peter Pan who allows Jordan to join him in Neverland as one of the Lost Boys (hinted at in a scene where Jordan and Lynx are talking about running away and they’re bouncing around on an elevated fire escape—a nice touch from scenic designer Jeff Weber—as if to imply they could fly away.) A drunk girlfriend, a needy best friend and an angry, judgmental other best friend?
That’d be enough to make me carpet-bomb my life, too. I mean, I probably wouldn’t fake my death, but…
Wait. What you see as the foursome’s group dynamics implode and unfold isn’t a faked death; Lynx didn’t do anything but stop communicating with people. He dropped out of Facebook and left his digital life behind. Where was he? We never learn but it’s vital to consider this: Nowhere in the script do the actors mention physically searching for him. He could have been living next door for all they know.
So, yes, that’s the millennial message, but know this: The themes are universal. Every generation has its coming of age story, and whether it chooses “Mrs. Robinson” or nearly freezing to death or the death of your father or a failed attempt to drop out of society to tell it, well, it’s a story that resonates. And Urbanite’s production of “Sender” resonates strongly. We might not all be able to truly understand the social media aspect of the play (hands up if you thank the deity of your choosing every day that camera phones didn’t exist in your 20s), but we can relate to the inner conflict made outer in this production.
This review hasn’t addressed the acting, and I should: It’s phenomenal, and yes, there’s some male nudity. It’s a back view but you’ll still see some of the front view, so if the glorious form of a nude man offends, well, close your eyes when Lynx drops the towel. I found myself actively disliking Jordan, because that’s how well Leonard played an insecure, cowardly, sniveling, pathetic, mean sidekick. And, through it all, both Williamson and Wright offer different but accurate interpretations of what it means to be a strong woman who’s scared and pissed off. It’s not only the individual performances they give that make “Sender” a triumph; it’s also the ensemble.
One last word: Perhaps some theatergoers might shy away from a “millennial” play; if you are that person, let me encourage you to go see the show. You might not be able to relate to the social media aspect or the $80,000 worth of student loans mentioned, but if you loved any of the movies I mentioned several hundred words ago, odds are, you’ll truly enjoy this show, too. The message it sends is timeless and, perhaps, can help bridge the not-so-vast-gap between the generations.
Cathy Salustri is the former arts + entertainment editor of Creative Loafing. You can contact her here. Follow @cl_tampabay on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news + views. Subscribe to our newsletter, too.