By Rebecca Spear
Last night I had the pleasure of viewing Diana Grisanti’s Class of ’94 playing at Weber State University’s Val A. Browning Center in Ogden. This show was commissioned and written specifically for Weber State University and is directed by Jennifer A. Kokai. When I first read the synopsis for this show, I was skeptical about how well a story about a Catholic school student’s sexual assault would be told. However, I was impressed by how this play shows both the social and emotional difficulties women face because of sexual assault as well as how to deal with and overcome them. Surprisingly enough, Grisanti’s characters help explore sensitive topics using humor, which sounds off-color but actually does really well in helping the audience dig into their emotions. While some elements of the show seemed unimportant and distracting from the main plot, I was pleasantly surprised by the actresses’ performances, the set design, and the main storyline as a whole. This show uses strong language and descriptive scenes that are best viewed for audiences 18 years or older.
Tiffany Campbell, Sam Transleau, and Amanda Dobbs – respectively the Lighting Designer, Scenic Designer and Costume Designer – work beautifully together in order to symbolically enhance the look of the play. Large white flowers lay scattered around the stage or hang from the ceiling. Some of the hanging ones are connected to lights so they can glow at important moments. Tall stained-glass windows stand on either side of the stage, one depicting a classical scene with a woman holding a cloth with Christ’s face on it. The other depicts Fabiana holding a paper with #MeToo written on it; a powerful message for the audience to digest as the show progresses.
Estephani Cerros, who plays Fabiana, gives an emotionally stirring performance as she deals with her character’s trauma. Her performance had me close to tears at multiple points in the show. Additionally, the close relationship depicted by Fabiana’s main group of friends and St. Veronica classmates (Morgan Hekking, Monroe Howell, Liberty Lockett) is very believable due in part to the characters’ quirks and witty dialogue but especially because the actresses interact remarkably well together. Their collective performance reminds us what it’s like to be an imperfect teenager growing up in a scary world. Marina, (Lockett) undertakes the role of angry protector as she seeks justice for her friend. Her powerful portrayal especially helps us feel her sudden urge to protect and assist her friends as they find their way through these new emotions and situations.
Karen Bruestle, the Musical Director, plays an important role helping the show flow from one scene to the next. The scenes are divided by the talented chorus members’ vocal performances, which help set the tone for the actresses and actors. At one point, their chilling rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” serves as an unsettling reminder of rape culture and mimics Fabiana’s traumatizing experience. There were one or two slip-ups with solo performers being slightly off-key, but they recovered quickly enough to not distract from the show.
Aalliyah Jenks steals the show with her vivacious portrayal of Joy Kimball, a local morning show host who gets involved with the girls’ plight when St Veronica’s Catholic School unjustly fires teacher Carolyn Donahue (Cydney Hall) due to the scandal. Throughout the play, Jenks’ animated, emotional, and hilarious performance demands attention whenever she is onstage. She and her own group of friends (St Veronica’s class of 1994) mimic the lives of the young girls as they deal with their own complicated relationships and past trauma.
Though the play is entitled Class of ’94, the story focuses much more on the current class of students and the steps they take to handle this issue, which makes the title a bit misleading. By intermission, we assume Kimball and her friends will play a more important role, but their involvement becomes muddled and almost more of an unimportant tangent from the main storyline. The real strength of this show lies in the steps the students take to learn what justice really means for Fabiana.
Following so closely after the #MeToo movement, Class of ’94 is a needed and thought-provoking story that explores sexual assault and the social and emotional implications that come with it. The talented performances and work that went into creating this show will have you thinking more thoroughly about these topics. Most importantly, this show gives us the hope that as we explore more ways to understand and deal with both rape culture and sexual assault we will better be able to fight it.
Weber State University Department of Performing Arts Presents Class of ‘94 by Diana Grisanti
Val Browning Center, 1901 University Cir, Ogden, UT 84408
April 6-7, 10-14, 2018 7:30 PM – Matinee April 14, 2018 2:00 PM
Tickets: $13 – $11/Students, Seniors/Military
Weber State Performing Arts Facebook Page
Class of ’94 Facebook Event