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I was never really a summer-camp kid. I went to summer camp, or I tried it out: two years in a week-long cub scout camp and a two-week stint at JCA Shalom in the Malibu hills of California. I remember begging my mom to send me to the infamous Stagedoor Manor (popularized by the film Camp), but that was out of our budget. So as a performance of The Grown-Ups began at Theatre with a View, I felt an immediate connection with Cassie, the newest staffer at Camp Indigo Woods, surrounded by coworkers who started attending the camp themselves at age seven.
In the Pennsylvania premiere of this play from Brooklyn-based theater company Nightdrive, produced in partnership with Theatre with a View, we are all around the fire pit after the campers have gone to sleep. Seated on camping chairs and back jacks, we are nestled around a glowing fire, surrounded by nature in this stunning outdoor performance space. Lacquered in bug spray, with the sun setting as the 100-minute show progresses, we’re totally immersed in the world of Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques’s wonderful play.
Through intimate late-night conversations, we watch the counselors, barely adults themselves, navigate the responsibility of caretaking. The camp itself is wrestling with a culture that has been called toxically competitive and racist. This is the summer they are going to make things right: the camp is rebranded “Indigo Woods” instead of an appropriated Native American name, and the color wars is now “rainbow summit.” Beyond all this internal change, there is a charged political conflict happening outside of camp. It becomes slowly clear that the world they will return to won’t be the same one they left.
Meet your counselors
This superlative production, directed by co-writer Fox, keeps the balance between humor, suspense, nostalgia, and possibility just right. To make matters better, I can’t remember a stronger ensemble. This production was developed while the actors and director quarantined together; their chemistry is electric.
As new senior counselor Cassie, Chloe Joy Ivanson is the perfect audience surrogate. She is skeptically bewildered as the more seasoned counselors keep her in line with the never-ending unspoken camp rules and rituals. Emily Elyse Everett plays Becca, a highly competent and anxious veteran counselor who strives to live up to the camp’s new mission of inclusion, while clearly engrained in a camp tradition that is suspicious of outsiders. Maeve (Abby Melick), Becca’s co-counselor, is spirited and spontaneous, making her a cult-like figure for her tween campers.
Lukas (Henriques) philosophizes about the role of camps and social institutions, a pseudo-intellectual stance that covers up his own anxiety about growing up. The crew is supervised by Maeve’s older brother Aiden (Zack Segel), in his first year as Assistant Camp Director. In this role, he struggles to balance his need for peers and his responsibility to hold the camp together. We hear of the god-like Camp Director Linda (or CDL for short), but never see her. Across the board, performances are layered and naturalistic, the camp personas beginning to fade as we see desperation and fear begin to overtake the characters.
Chills, thrills, and community
Theatre with a View and Nightdrive is a match made in heaven. As the tone of the show becomes increasingly tense and grim, the sun sets, submerging the audience into the darkness of a late night at camp. The campfire seats 50 audience members, mostly at eye-level with the actors. The spirit of community pervades the experience until the play’s chilling and beautiful final moments, performed in near-total darkness.
So make the drive to Pottstown. You can even toast a s’more before the show. Inhale the smell of DEET, warm yourself by the fire, and experience the thrill of seeing some of the most exciting theater around. Even if you’re not a camp person, you’ll want to come back next year.
What, When, Where
The Grown-ups. By Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques, directed by Skylar Fox. $35. Through August 29, 2022, at Theatre with a View, 81 Ebelhare Road, Pottstown, PA. (484) 925-1346 or theatrewithaview.com.
Ticket-buyers who need physical accommodations can email [email protected].
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