STATE COLLEGE - "From Up Here," a darkly funny comedy with timely dramatic overtones, kicks off Penn State Centre Stage's fall season.
A 2008 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award winner, "From Up Here" has remaining 7:30 p.m. performances Monday through Friday at Penn State's Downtown Theatre Center.
Playwright Liz Flahive's play focuses upon a neurotic Midwestern suburban family beset by trouble. High school senior Kenny Barrett is preparing to issue a public apology to his schoolmates for his "anti-social act" by taking a weapon in his backpack to school. The frequent news accounts of high school and college students random killings cast an eerie shadow over this play, which is both a funny and unexpectedly moving family story.
“From Up Here” has remaining performances at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow through Friday at Penn State’s Downtown Theatre Center, State College.
In an online interview video, Penn State School of Theatre faculty member Rob Schneider, who directs this production, summarized the unique reactions that "From Up Here" can provoke.
"I had such a fantastic reaction (when I first read) this piece. I was laughing hysterically in this scene and crying hysterically in the second with the laughing and crying alternating," he said. The Centre Stage cast consists of Penn State master of fine arts program graduate actors, bachelor of fine arts in music theater actors and bachelor of arts program students.
With much of the action set in the family kitchen, the Barrett family tries to sort through the aftermath of Kenny's acting out as the sensitive senior struggles with his sudden "fame."
Sharing his angst is Kenny's mother, Grace, the other pivotal character.
Funny, frazzled and anxious over the stresses of a second marriage, her job, and hostile teenage children, Grace also must deal with the trauma of not having the answer why her son would commit such an act, which caused chaos at school and confusion at home.
Her laid-back husband, Daniel, valiantly tries to have his stepchildren love him, while Kenny's sister Lauren is angry with Kenny but also protective of him.
Other characters are Lauren's boyfriend, an over-reaching classmate, the school's guidance counselor and globe-trotting Aunt Caroline who has headed back to the Barrett household to lend support as Kenny plans on returning to school.
Some of the critical acclaim when the contemporary comedy opened on Broadway was a bit muted as the playwright uses a visual metaphor to open and close the play. The audience sees a young woman strapped in a climber's harness high above a summit. Her message to Kenny: "My view 'From Up Here' is that your and everyone's lives are really a series of climbs over dangerous mountaintops. But always remember, you will survive. Forget mean girls and cruel jocks and you will be fine."
With its strongly comic flavor, "From Up Here" offers a qualified thumbs up to dysfunctional families everywhere and a thoughtful message to audiences who might recognize one of their own crazy family members.