everything will be different

"You are an evil little girl..."

Last night I caught the Mad Cat Theatre's production of "Everything Will Be Different: A Brief History of Helen of Troy" at the Light Box Studio. To reach the little punk-rock performance space, I pushed through a barricade of office doors (including one marked "immigration") into a lobby gleaming with mirrors (yes, even on the ceiling). Everybody huddled in the corners, sipping from plastic cups: from silver-haired gents in suits to Converse-sporting New World kids.

Inside the performance space, I found a seat in an oversized director's chair--making me feel as if I were in charge of something. The stage manager popped up with a bag of bottled water, which he passed around like an offering. I stared at the horseshoe tattoo on his arm as he talked about the upcoming season (something involving kitty costumes).

Yeah, I'm sure you've heard the usual blah blah about "new voices in theatre," but if you get a chance to see Mark Schultz's play, (which launched in NYC and has swept across the country) you'll fall for Charlotte, the teenage heroine who believes that beauty can buy love. The play drifts in and out of Charlotte's subjective reality. At times, we get to hear what's happening inside her head, all the catch-phrases from teen mags and TV ads that spread the gospel of hair "product," mud masks that "refresh and rejuvenate," and the perfect tan-in-a-bottle (so your legs don't look "retarded"). If Helen of Troy could launch a thousand ships with her face, why can't Charlotte get a little respect? Not from her boozy dad, who slumps in front of the nightly news, or her so-called best friend, who works at Cinnabun and "draws well." ("Everybody draws well," says Charlotte). Not even the guidance counselor, who (in Charlotte's crazed imagination) suggests that she pursue a career as a porn star. Why not? Aren't porn stars today's rock stars?

Ceci Fernandez plays Charlotte in a Catholic schoolgirl skirt and Hello Kitty band-aids. I wanted to pull the barrettes from her hair, brush it out, and whisper, "Everything will get better. Things will be different." But I know she wouldn't believe me.

During the twelve-minute intermission ("Because fifteen is too long and ten is too short"), I bumped into Mia Leonin, one of my first creative writing professors at UM. She used to write encouraging little notes in the margins of my stories, like, "nice detail," or "dialgue sounds true to the ear." Now I'm scribbling the same words on my students' papers. I remember sitting under a banyan tree and listening to Mia read poetry in her sing-songy rhythm. Not only is she a wonderful teacher, but a sharp-eyed poet, as well. I finally had the chance to tell her about my book. She beamed and said, "It's a long, hard road."

She's right. And as I work on a new book, I know it won't get easier. Just different. And that's cool with me.