Local playwright Chris Jansen recently caught the eye of the media with her innovative musical Journey for a Reason, which is being performed by New Ground Theatre (and directed by the author) through Sunday at Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf. But credit should also be given to the young performers in Jansen's theatrical creation; most of them are college students, and one is just starting sixth grade.
Using both spoken and sung dialogue, the characters explore the suicide of a high-school senior, Laura. After her death, Laura visits her best friend, Sara, in Christmas Carol fashion, to take her back in time and reveal the events that led Laura to kill herself. As we soon discover, Laura was struggling with events in her life that snowballed and left her feeling unwanted, depressed, and scared.
First of all, there's the crumbling household: Laura and her little brother are abused by their father and haunted by memories of their dead mother. Other contributing factors are Rick, the boyfriend who dumps Laura for seductive Cindy; grades, which aren't up to par; and the loss of Laura's copy-editing job for the school newspaper. These events push Laura into a psychiatric ward, and soon after returning to school she commits suicide.
A musical about teen suicide is unique, and Jansen and music-writer Aldrew Wilder generally handle the touchy subject gracefully. A few moments in the script are awkward - such as the unnatural expository dialogue in the early newsroom scenes - and a few of the songs remind me of an after-school special ("Chosen Leaders of the School," "Excuse Song," "The Deadline Song"). But the interactions between best friends Laura and Sara are filled with effective anger, sincerity, and sorrow. The songs that reveal inner emotions - "Other Parents," "All Alone," and "Relief" - capture genuine responses to the events surrounding life before the suicide.
My favorite scene, though, was the Dream Ballet. In this interpretive dance, the entire cast participates in a wordless exposition surrounding Laura's downfall. The lighting, the choreography, and the performers unite beautifully to craft a poignant pre-intermission moment. And the performers in Journey for a Reason are reasons in themselves to see this musical.
Melissa Mooney plays Laura, and her serene smile complements a singing voice that was made for musical theatre. This role is possibly the most challenging, but Mooney accomplishes a presentation bordering on perfection. Sara is portrayed by vivacious redhead Alicia Jackson, who positively shines in her solo "All Alone." All members of the cast contribute solid performances; Stephanie Beck's alluring Cindy and Susan McPeters' concerned Ms. Kendell (the newspaper adviser) are both notably sincere.
Though it's a bit preachy at times, Journey for a Reason is the kind of musical we don't have the pleasure of seeing too often in the Quad Cities - one that deals with serious subjects. Take this Journey for the sake of seeing local theatrical artists - the playwright, performers, and musicians - display their talents.
Journey for a Reason continues this weekend at Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf with performances June 26, 27, and 28 at 7:30 p.m., and June 29 at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, call (563)326-7529.