Take us then, back to the ’90s. That certain mix of textures, colors, sounds. Kurt and Courtney holed up in a hotel room somewhere, your ironic metal T-shirt tucked safely under a plaid button-town. Sophie Gets the Horns is the second production I’ve seen at the Incubator Arts Project to traffic in now-inescapable millennial nostalgia. It’s also the better one by half. Playwright Adriano Shaplin and the Riot Group are adept at invoking the subtle linguistic detail of a time when “Don’t be a dick about it” tripped off the tongue like a newfound revelation, and “very…recursion” was a suitable underhanded compliment to pay a slam poem.
There’s slam poetry aplenty in Sophie. It’s the preferred art form to capture the angsty, hyperbolic, faux-hip stylizations of the characters—freshmen (mostly women actually) at an expensive liberal arts college. There, they posture cynically, drop acid, fall in love, and self-destruct from jealousy and rage. In this small, cloistered, privileged world—exposed to the ravages of complete freedom and intellectual pressure—the personal, the academic, and the political converge. Insecurity and petty conflicts take on mythic proportions.
In keeping with the heightened mood, director Rebecca Wright ensures a crisp, athletic pace similar to that of Pugilist Specialist, the ensemble’s breathless military satire. Yet she also introduces dissonant, looping choreography, appropriate to the fever-dream quality of Sophie’s flashback narrative. In particular, Alice (Mary Tuomanen)—the scathing, depressive love object of naive Sophie (Kristen Bailey)—captures the stage physically, her gymnastics conveying a haunting sense of unpronounceable frustration and loss. Drew Friedman lightens things in a hilarious turn as Shallembarger, a professor of ethnography who lacks the courage of his consistently po-mo convictions. Sophie is among the Riot Group’s most fully realized productions to date, and unassailable proof that they deserve a wider audience.