CJ is a dreamboat, the sort of high school senior many teen-aged girls would love to have for a boyfriend. Tall, handsome, great smile, expressive eyes with sexy, long lashes, charismatic and funny, a good athlete and student, excellent communicator—and most of all, totally devoted to his sophomore girlfriend Angela. A lucky girl, right? Forty percent of teen-aged girls report knowing someone their age that has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. CJ is an obsessive abuser. He doesn’t know how to stop. Angela is terrified he’ll kill himself if she tries to break up with him, even though he hits her regularly and forces inappropriate sexual contact. It’s heartbreaking to watch and part of a growing epidemic of violence that knows no boundaries of race, class, educational background or gender orientation. Welcome to love that really hurts.
Rated by TIME Magazine as one of the top five theaters in the nation performing for youth, Dallas Children’s Theatre presents the world premiere of Dont u luv me, by its resident award-winning playwright Linda Daugherty, author of national touring shows The Secret Life of Girls and EAT (It’s Not About Food). Part of the company’s “Young Adult Relevant Drama” program, the play deals with the subject of date violence, how to recognize it and how to choose healthy relationships.
Cast in the pivotal roles of CJ and Angela are two dedicated professional Dallas area actors—Montgomery Sutton and Lauren Rosen. Montgomery got his start in theater at age 3 on DCT’s stage, graduated from St. Mark’s School and recently returned to Dallas after earning his BA in theatre at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. Lauren is a dancer and actress studying for her BA at UNT. They create a believable, fully realized relationship. Lauren’s Angela at first is sweet and innocent, open and trusting. As Montgomery’s CJ shifts from playfully affectionate to demanding and tyrannical, Angela loses her friends, distances herself from her family and school activities to please CJ, and her inner light dims. She finds herself in a lonely, terrifying place and clearly reflects the numbing horror she must feel. Lauren makes the audience live the nightmare Angela experiences. Montgomery pleased audiences and critics alike a season ago as Romeo in Romeo & Juliet at Shakespeare Dallas. He brings the same intensity, nuance and physicality to his role as the conflicted, confused CJ. He does behave like a monster, but he also shows a vulnerability that makes his portrayal comprehensible. Director Nancy Schaeffer says, “Montgomery makes us care about CJ. We want the best for him too-but then we see the anger grow and take over his life and love.” There’s a fine line between creating too harsh extremes and sugarcoating a serious issue; director Schaeffer and her two leads confidently pull it off. From their initial cheery conversation when school starts to their escalating text messaging (shown projected on a screen upstage), CJ and Angela’s reality evolves naturally.
No holding back the stage violence in this play. Some families may hesitate to expose their teens to it, so up close and personal. Don’t be deterred. It’s well-rehearsed and choreographed precisely. No one is injured; no one gets out of control. And the point is properly made. Asked about the combat rehearsal process, Montgomery speaks from the heart: “The enacting of it is pretty tough because it’s very brutal, and to take it to a “real” place, even though it’s only fight choreography, is terrifying. The physical combat, itself, has had a very smooth evolution throughout the (rehearsal) process. We run the fight scenes before every show, and Lauren and I have a very strong trust that developed early on.” Without that trust, the play could never have the potent, positive impact it does.
The balance of the cast creates “normal” high school ambience, the background where the abusive relationship develops unchecked. Kelly Brooks as Angela’s best friend Jen cares about her friend but isn’t quite sure what to do to help. Dallas professional actor and producer Josh Blann plays Jen’s non-abusive boyfriend with an ease and affection that provides excellent contrast to the tightly wound CJ. Dancing at the prom, shopping, heading to class or reviewing prom photos on a cell phone (also projected on screen), the teen actors enliven Linda Daugherty’s hour-long script. Daugherty’s play does an excellent job of portraying the problem, and DCT’s cast efficiently executes an enjoyable and educational performance. Asked how she feels about Dont u luv me, Lauren Rosen exudes enthusiasm: “ It’s one thing to talk about these things, and a completely different thing to see it happening right in front of you. That’s why theater is such an important medium. It brings the issue to life and you get to see the consequences unfold right there. It can happen to you, your best friend or anyone. I think everyone should bring their kids, family, friends, everyone!”
Dont u luv me runs through April 26 at the Rosewood Center Studio Theater, 5938 Skillman Rd. in Dallas, Texas. Recommended for audiences age 13 and up. Performances are scheduled for Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 1:30pm and Sundays at 1:30pm and 4:30 pm. Tickets: 214-740-0051, or on-line: http://www.dct.org