Stephen Spotswood’s In the Forest She Grew Fangs, the latest offering of Oregon Children’s Theatres’ Young Professionals, is immersive (not just because someone nearly drowns in a lake), haunting (beyond its spooky, ever-morphing story), and as captivating as the wooded rural town the story’s teens are trapped in.
In the universe of popular films such as Carrie, Teen Wolf, and Twilight, and in the spirit of prior OCT shows Columbinus (also a Young Professionals production) and Zombie in Love, this tale never declares but strongly suggests that it’s about a teen girl’s werewolf transformation. If it’s not about that, then the lycanthropic theme is a metaphor for alienation and maturation. It almost doesn’t matter either way in a fable that shuffles various burdens between its main characters as they each serve their turn as princess, predator and prey.
Ideally, adolescence is the most aggressive phase in life. It’s when you learn, by experimenting, how much physical or mental force you need to exert if you want to defend yourself without damaging others. Because this is a drama, of course these characters overstep and people get hurt. The script is gritty, even shocking in spots, but all in service to the process of testing boundaries. Hopefully, the worst things people will ever say to you in your life are the things you hear in high school, before everyone knows better.
An interesting creative choice jumps out of the printed program: Rather than listing the main characters first and the ensemble after, the cast list alternates perfectly between main roles and ensemble members. As it happens, that’s how the alphabetical order of the actors’ names sorts out, but in a teaching environment like OCT’s Young Professionals, with “professional” right in the name, you can bet that any such deviations from the industry standard are intentional. As per the cliché, there are no small parts—and commendably, among this group there are no bad actors in lead roles or ensemble.
Emma Fulmer, lucky enough to snag the lead role in her first OCT production, drinks the marrow of her new-found spotlight as Lucy, the girl who metaphorically transforms into a werewolf. At turns vulnerably reaching for connection and seething and pouncing with rage, she utterly dispels the trappings of her cute appearance and honestly scares us. The alienated, sensitive psycho can’t be an easy role to “Carrie” (lol), but she nails it.
Third-year YP Sierra Kruse makes the pensive, cynical “hot girl” Jenny relatable as she reacts to her small-town surroundings, her older ex’s pestering texts, and advances from a boy and a girl admirer.
Max Bernsohn, a second-year YP, is genuine and charming as Hunter, a jock whose confidence has burgeoned since he’s shed his fat-kid image.
And Piper Tuor, a senior and fourth-year YP, takes the most mature role by a mile—Ruth, Lucy’s grandma—well in stride, deftly infusing her performance with folksy affectations and wry comedic delivery. No slouch, that one.
The ensemble, as hinted, hold their own. Mikala Capage, Gracie Jacobson, Hiedi Osaki and David Vandyke are the atmosphere, the set, the wind in the trees, and the transition between scenes. Sometimes, one or another ensemble member will step into a bit part, or will become a physical surrogate for a main character, miming a vignette while that character narrates. There’s plenty for them to do, and they dispatch it not just sans-slip-ups, but gracefully.
Fangs is a potent play beyond youth theater standards (Defunkt Theatre did a memorable production of it two years ago), with plenty to ponder after it ends. How does it feel to transform? How do you become stronger without getting crueller, and how do you pursue love without demanding a pound of flesh? High schoolers may start to wrestle these demons, but taming them is a lifelong quest.
In the Forest She Grew Fangs continues through November 13 in Oregon Children’s Theatre’s YP Studio Theatre, 1939 N.E. Sandy Blvd. Ticket and schedule information here.