'Turns' tackles 'tween' issues with poise, grace

Ric Averill's "Turns" takes the audience to a local arts center dance studio, where a dozen or so young dancers are preparing for a production of "Snow Queen." At the center of the action is Marta, a conflicted 11-year-old (played by 16-year-old Sarah Bezek). Marta's parents divorced not long before her mother died, and her upbringing was left to her well-meaning but overprotective grandmother Ruby (Kimberly O'Brien) and Ruby's boyfriend, Charlie (David Hollond), Marta's warm and valued surrogate grandfather.

The opening scene shows Marta, spotlighted on a darkened stage, gracefully dancing "Swan Lake," and it sets up the metaphor that controls the play: ballet as the grace and balance Marta (like all of us) longs to find in her life. Bezek does a splendid job of making Marta seem awkward - her life as she sees it - except when she dances, which is her life as she would like it to be.

In Marta, the audience recalls the difficulties of being a "tween," when everything seems to go wrong. She misses her mother and is angry with her father, absent for the past five years but now returning to take an interest in her. He's gay, which the suspicious Ruby cannot accept.

That's the least of Marta's objections to him, and she rejects him in every way that an 11-year-old girl can think of, which is quite a lot, including but not limited to pouting, ignoring, misunderstanding, correcting, staring and eye-rolling. As the frustrated Timo, her father (sensitively played by Joseph Serrano) says, "Everything I do irritates her!" Yet he persists, enrolling in dance lessons and gaining a part in "Snow Queen," and she slowly warms to him as she feels perhaps she can trust him a little.

Past Event

"Turns" by Ric Averill

  • Saturday, October 14, 2006, 2 p.m.
  • Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., Lawrence
  • All ages / $7.50 - $10

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Kelly, Marta's "best friend," is slender, elegant, and a head taller than the petite Marta. Played convincingly by Maddie Backus, the self-absorbed Kelly preens, postures and expects Marta to rejoice that her "best friend" has won the prized role of Gerda. Another friend, Mariah, (Leslie Cunningham) is more sympathetic. In fact, most of those around Marta are sympathetic - but she misinterprets their sympathy as pity, which infuriates her.

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During rehearsal for Ric Averill's new play "Turns," Marta, played by Sarah Bezek, dances before going to dance class. "Turns" opened last weekend and continues with performances Saturday and Sunday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Cheryl Weaver deftly plays Miss Debbie, the wise dance teacher who realizes her job includes much more than ballet instruction. Kris Hilding turns in a solid performance as the fey Gecko, Marta's shy and mostly online friend. The two improvise their relationship, not ready for romance but achieving a touching closeness as they keep their distance. And Chris Wheatley is engaging as Timo's partner, Mark, who charms Marta into telling her father, "He's a lot nicer than you."

Ric Averill has written many children's plays, and this one certainly has things to say to young people (as well as affording many roles for them). But, like the best of children's literature, it doesn't condescend to them, and as a result it serves equally well as a drama for adults. Whatever its audience, the play speaks of acceptance, of dealing with envy and with loss, of learning trust and forgiveness.

- Dean Bevan is professor emeritus of English at Baker University. He can be reached at bevan@ku.edu.

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