#staystrong, from Tamlynn Bryson’s Drawing Board Productions, tells the story of Val, a fitness video blogger and internet personality as she battles with an injury that puts her out of the #fitfam game.

This show features the heavy use of technology in the form of a projector screen as a vehicle for multiple voices to permeate Val’s solitary world post-injury. She speaks repeatedly to voice-overs of her friend Sam, who has called her. She records updates for her website, and answers fan questions. She receives text messages from her fans and friends (and a few enemies). All of these things are shown to the audience in a kind of parallel world on the projector with which Val interacts through the mediums of her laptop and cell phone.

Photograph courtesy of Drawing Board Productions
Photograph courtesy of Drawing Board Productions

In fact, the stage is divided in half in this show, with Bryson occupying a realist bachelor pad stage right, and the screen taking up the rest. I don’t have any definite opinion on the screen in this show, which is odd; normally these things either work or they don’t. In this case, the screen didn’t bother me, but neither did it particularly impress me. On the one hand, it’s very useful as a means to allow other voices on stage, and it provides another layer by which the audience can get to know Val. But on the other, it doesn’t do anything very innovative or interesting beyond that. Given that the principal antagonist in this show is a voice of self recrimination displaced onto her computer, there is an ample opportunity to make this screen a more active participant in the drama.

This script struggles on a couple of fronts; in one sense, it is much too long, and in another, much too short. In the first case, the action we observe on stage is quite expository, and very slow to develop. Val’s character is revealed to us in a rather static state over a period of several months, and while we gain more insight into that character, it is not by observing her changing in response to the world around her. Despite her constant connection to technology, and other people through it, she remains isolated in her bedroom, her actions and point of view unaffected by their mediated intrusions into this world.

This actually leads directly to my statement that the script is much too short; we need more material in this show for Val to develop as a human being.

My feeling of incompleteness comes partly from the lack of character development, but also significantly from the sensation that this plot arc draws heavily and unselfconsciously on the tropes of sports films. This straight approach would benefit from a few twists and turns that might speak to the shortcomings of this narrative arc itself as a pattern to which we hold up and shape our own personal stories. The piece’s conclusion is more like the end of act one of this story, just at the part where the hero makes a grievous error out of arrogance and denial, without the triumphant return/recovery. Not to say that a triumph is necessary, but given the expectation implicit in the genre, leaving off before this moment is a missed opportunity to say something.

The character of Val, and her story, have potential to speak powerfully to audiences about some relevant issues, but they are in need of some additional development before they’ll be able to.


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