Naomi Cohen’s Dangerous Things on Dark Nights takes an intriguing approach to a catastrophic event. Three best high school friends : Ellie, Katie and Beth are indulging in controlled substances, when circumstances take a very dangerous turn. Cohen writes the dialogue as (for the most part) three extended monologues in which the three girls address the audience directly, having almost no interaction with each other. Though they all come from different backgrounds, they would seem to share the same dysfunctional sort of family, and the need for closeness outside their own homes. Each girl tells her own side of the story (a calamity that ruined their friendship forever) but we sense pretty early on that we’re missing a crucial piece. Of course, Cohen waits till the very end to reveal this.
Considering Cohen was 17 when she wrote this, and the actors are still in their teens, the accomplishment of Dangerous Things on Dark Nights is all the more impressive. The strategy of omitting interaction between the three reflects the resulting estrangement of the horrible, enigmatic incident. In their way, the friends are savvy and sophisticated but the more we ruminate on this, the more sad it feels, as if they’ve been deprived of their innocence. Beth, Ellie and Katie put on a brave face, but they’re clearly covering woundedness and disappointment. Their friendship provided them with some kind of substitute for familial security, and now, in a single night, that’s gone. Their lack of core values has left them without tools to deal with calamity. Cohen also addresses other issues, such as ennui, cynicism, parental apathy and disillusionment.
Director Dennis Raveneau has done an excellent job with Alexandria Lofton (Beth) Maya Pearson (Katie) and Isabella Montague (Ellie). They are utterly convincing and invested from the moment the lights come up. Considering the intense content, the material is handled with skill and respect for the audience, never using the excruciating plot to tug at our hearts. The distance that the three friends put between themselves and the life-changing event, only serves as testimonial to its devastating impact. Dangerous Things on Dark Nights is an absorbing, unsettling, somber odyssey, told with nuance and confidence.
Dangerous Things on Dark Nights is presented by CrossOver Arts Theatre (playing 8PM Saturday, August 1st) under the auspices of The Festival of Independent Theaters at The Bath House Cultural Center. 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218. (White Rock Lake.) 1-800-617-6904.