Emerging playwright Daniel Karasik gets meta with a play about twenty-somethings who don't know how to handle the opportunity their generation was born into.
You may have heard of this new little show called Girls on HBO. Hannah is 24, two years out of university, interns for a living in New York City (supplemented by her professor parents), and eats cupcakes naked in the shower while her roommate shaves her legs in the same room. By declaring herself “a voice, of a generation,” the show’s creator, writer, and lead actor Lena Dunham has been widely proclaimed our voice, of our generation—that generation apparently being the early-to-mid twenty-something with the luxury to set up shop in a bustling metropolis, immediately after graduation, to begin writing a book of essays and feel generally miserable while we “figure it out.”
Not that Toronto author and playwright Daniel Karasik is anything like Lena Dunham, but his play, The Innocents, speaks to that same “burdened by our gifts” theme. The lives of four twenty-somethings are intertwined when Aaron (Nathan Barrett) confesses to killing an old woman in an attempted robbery, and his wealthy father hires Stanley (Daniel Karasik), a 25-year-old wunderkind lawyer, to represent him. Stanley, Aaron’s ex Jackie (Amelia Sargisson), and a Globe and Mail reporter Laura (Virgilia Griffith) are consumed by the case as they struggle to understand why such a privileged young man would, almost happily, throw everything away.
With a slick all-white set from Rae Powell and low-fi sultry sound design from Tye Hunt Fitzgerald, paired with Karasik’s writing and the overall vision of Jordan Tannahill, The Innocents is a smarter, slicker, deeper Girls, only the sex scenes are emotionally painful instead of painfully awkward. Each character represents an aspect essential to youth—Stanley’s ambition, Aaron’s impulse, Laura’s sexuality, and Jackie’s lovesickness—that they must be able to contain in order to really “grow up.”
The real tension revolves around the clash between Aaron and Stanley, two boys of the same age and from the same background, but who could not have evolved into more different people. Their contrasts are not only philosophical and emotional, but in their bodies—Aaron is almost constantly in a recline, staring off into space, while Stanley leans tensely against the back wall, reflected in the set’s window, unable to get out of his own head. Neither is likeable. In fact, none of the characters really are. But, as is customary for a generation so familiar with controlled images, especially online, all are hiding crippling insecurities and weaknesses with carefully-performed fronts. And when those fronts are pulled away by Karasik’s smart script, they redeem themselves.
“We are so fucking lucky,” Stanley tells Aaron after an explosive argument—though that doesn’t stop them from making the wrong moves. But we learn that it’s not pure arrogance or stupidity that’s their problem. They’re just young, and luck doesn’t automatically bring wisdom.
The cast and crew are all around the same age as these characters, so overall there is a sense of freshness and commitment to the story. Especially essential to the production are Karasik and Tannahill, themselves twenty-somethings who have received more than their fair share of accolades at a young age: Tannahill as an acclaimed playwright and filmmaker, Karasik the recent winner of Canada Writes, who will stage his award-winning play Haunted in this year’s SummerWorks Festival. (A German translation of The Innocents is also currently running in Mainz.)
Stanley is the central figure in the show, leaving the others relatively less formed as characters. But it’s exciting, as fellow twenty-somethings, to see such recognizable figures on stage, presented by our peers, and see others willing to listen to them. Luck might not bring wisdom, but it does bring opportunity like this to express ourselves. Now we just need to explore areas beyond how miserable we are because of that luck.