When classmates ostracize 17-year-old Roy Black for kissing the high-school quarterback, he changes his identity to Rose, doling out life lessons.
“The characters are high-school kids. They are all lost and confused,” explained Gianna Lozzi Wolf, artistic director and an actor in “Mirror Mirror,” a new stage production in South Philadelphia that juxtaposes fantasy and fairytale with reality.
“They know there is more to who they are and these surface values that are instilled in them by their families,” she added. “It’s interesting to watch the ways they all struggle.”
Gianna Lozzi Wolf and Freddie Lozzi founded Raw Street Productions, the South Philly-based theater company that will stage Sarah Treem’s “Mirror Mirror” for a 10-day run starting at the end of this month.
The edginess of the drama, set in the contemporary but conservative American South, appealed to the founders.
“The play is crazy-intense, but we feel good about the messages it’s sending,” said Wolf during a recent rehearsal. “It’s harsh material, so I’m really terrified: How are we going to put this content on stage?”
Lozzi who is also the director, said he particularly relished the challenge of staging such material in a neighborhood bar.
“I like the juxtaposition of being in this hole-in-the-wall place in South Philly and throwing pretty political stuff in people’s faces,” Lozzi said. “There is this punk-rock feeling.”
“Mirror Mirror” tackles topical issues beyond the central plot, cast members noted. In addition to homophobia, the play touches upon mental illness, rape culture and body-dysmorphia disorder — all with teen attitudes.
Audiences also will see fantasy and realism clash, and fairytale references that appear out of nowhere, Lozzi said.
It’s not easy to create that juxtaposition, the director added, especially with such delicate topics. Lighting will be one element.
“We are going to create a surreal space that will make it easier for audience members to wrap their heads around how dreamlike the show is meant to be. We have a couple of things in mind,” he said.
Wolf said the play’s narrative is purposely ambiguous.
“We’re determining from the script what’s fantasy and reality. So, there are moments that are fantastical, but we want the audience to wonder and guess at them.”
Costar Gracie Lyn Hudson, whose character, Libby, is in a bid to become popular, said the fantastical element serves to highlight the characters’ underbelly.
“It’s where some of the truly wicked elements of the characters come from, or are emphasized,” she noted.
Out gay actor CJ Heston, cast as a character named Hoyt Monroe, said it’s the cast’s responsibility to explore what makes each character tick — even when it’s personally foreboding.
“Whenever we are afraid, we know that it is something we should do. It’s our job as actors to find the genuineness of the person we are portraying,” said Heston. “On the surface, they may be awful, but what is it that makes them awful?”
Madison Caudullo, who plays two students named Laurel and Honey, pointed out that the characters say horrible things to each other — and that the fantasy element softens these expressions.
“When the characters go into their fantasy realms, they editorialize themselves,” she said. “They are growing into their fantasy personas, which are so much more adult.”
This particularly applies to the cross-dressing main character, added Heston.
“It is very obvious that Rose is Roy in a dress. The show’s characters are in the fantasy too. They wonder, Who is this new girl with this amazing personality?”
Dan D’Albis, who plays quarterback Badger Biers, said his character’s sexuality is never clearly defined.
“But he reiterates fluidity. He’s deeply in love with Roy, and when Roy’s dressed as a woman, Badger is deeply in love with Rose. It doesn’t matter if he recognizes her or not. Roy/Rose is what he needs in his life.”
Raw Street Productions presents Sarah Treem’s “Mirror Mirror” at Connie’s Ric Rac, 1132 S. Ninth St., April 25-May 6. For tickets or more information, visit www.rawstreetproductions.com.