Dank Memes for Forest Teens: “Eat Your Young”

Maez Gordon, Abacus Dean-Polacheck, Charlotte Stowe, Sunny Feldman; Photo by Hilary Scott Photography.

Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre
By J.C. Pankratz
Directed by Shamus
Fight and intimacy direction by Yo-El Cassell

Oct. 6 – 16, 2022
PRIDE NIGHT: Friday, October 14 at 8 p.m.
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215

A strobe light effect is used during the performance.

Content warnings: Substance abuse disorders, drug use, self-harm, body dysmorphia, disordered eating, fatphobia, violence, and occasional misgendering. Find resources here.

Critique by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — I fully support content warnings. Content warnings enable survivors to make better choices for their needs. Content warnings are a sign of an empathetic and understanding theatre company. Sometimes even a survivor won’t know when they will be triggered. It is better to err on the side of compassion than to abstain.  

Horror theatre can tell important stories, but often it is an excuse to disgust an audience with cool theatre tricks and fake blood. Eat Your Young is a hard departure from torture porn (or torture fanfiction, as is the case for much of theatre), and I am glad to see it, but it was not the show I was expecting from the content warnings or the summary on the BPT website. 

Content warnings are an imperfect, relatively new practice. Eat Your Young contains elements of traditional psychological horror, but it is largely a comedy. The content warnings lead me to expect jump scares, even physical torture. I was surprised when neither happened. 

Lucia (Abacus Dean-Polacheck), Jelly (Charlotte Stowe), Ginger (Sunny Feldman), and Quinn (Maez Gordon) are four mismatched teens enrolled in an abusive emotional growth school disguised as the wilderness survival program. The teens are abandoned in the forest without resources except for their water bottles, a baggie of tampons, and their sociopathic counselors Marty (Ross Beschler) and Marty B (Jay Eddy). 

They are learning to sleep in the open and starve for dinner when a call for help causes the ground to crack open under their feet. The quartet finds themselves in a supernatural conundrum as they reckon with monsters and unfamiliar woodsy terrain. Eat Your Young is funny, chaotic, and questions alternative therapy institutions that operate within the troubled teen industry.

Pankratz created a dark, dirty reality in which their characters suffer, but did so without demanding their characters suffer for our entertainment. Here’s a key to understanding why: the characters’ suffering isn’t the point of the play. Their escape from terror is.

Audiences expecting torture porn will be frustrated. I didn’t expect to laugh or feel sympathy for the villains, but I did. I did expect to vomit in my mouth a little, but I didn’t. 

The play summary* needs editing to explain the content warnings and the play’s genre. Put more emphasis on what makes Eat Your Young a funny play. The current summary has a-cabin-in-the-woods meets Deliverance vibes that aren’t helped by its October performance dates. 

I was so surprised by Director Shamus’s staging of the show. Eat Your Young is an emotionally violent show. Shamus and the cast stuck a keen balance between the characters’ lack of boundaries and the actors’ respect for each other. 

Jay Eddy, Maez Gordon (foreground), Charlotte Stowe, Sunny Feldman; Photo by Hilary Scott Photography.

Jay Eddy gave the character Marty B crazy eyes. Innocuous actions were given loathsome depths. Ross Beschler as Marty was Eddy’s partner in mania. As Eddy dove deeper into Marty B’s sociopathic tendencies, Beschler embraced Marty’s lunatic affability. Marty is friendly but he is not your friend. 

Abacus Dean-Polacheck, Maez Gordon, Sunny Feldman, and Charlotte Stowe with an extra-kinesthetic performance practice make a great team. The camaraderie of the actors makes their characters’ capabilities and easy friendships convincing. They are precociously prepared for the psychological gauntlet of a wilderness survival camp. 

 Eat Your Young is not a finished play. The first act is in its final form. The second act needs refinement. The plot loses itself but resolves well. 

The play’s unfinished state gives it plenty of space within its scenes to take wild turns into issues of menstruation and human identity. Characters veer into unusual predicaments such as fighting for mortal needs and emotional weaponry for transgenerational social warfare. 

Pankratz has enough story material in Eat Your Young for at least two other plays about characters and the camp’s supernatural origins. More importantly, Pankratz has created a world interesting enough that an audience could invest in two or more plays. It’s up to Pankratz to decide how and if the continued story is still a play, podcast, opera, etc. 

The cast performed as if the play were 100% complete and whole. It’s as if the actors were confident that their characters lived beyond the page.

Eat Your Young is fantastical fiction but abusive wilderness programs are unfortunately not. Wilderness programs are marketed as emotional growth schools that nurture kids and teens into functional adults. The truth is that they are unregulated institutions of abuse

Charlotte Stowe, Ross Beschler, Abacus Dean-Polacheck, Jay Eddy (back to camera); Photo by Hilary Scott Photography.

Character Lucia mentions the Geneva Conventions, rules that limit the barbarity of war. The troubled teen industry regularly ignores these basic rules. Because parents sign away their right to these institutions, kids are mistreated with their parents’ signed permission. 

The troubled teen industry has received media attention recently because of the documentary This is Paris by Paris Hilton. She works with Breaking Code Silence to prevent further abuse to kids and teens within the troubled teen industry, “a network of privately-owned, powerfully punitive, and often wilderness-based therapy programs, residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, group homes, boot camps, and faith-based academies.” 

If this cause calls to you, please consider donating or getting involved to prevent further abuse. Not every troubled teen can be saved by supernatural forces ensconced in the deep, dark woods. 

*This goes for all plays and summaries. Let your audience trust you by providing accurate information ahead of a performance. 

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