When Catastrophic Theatre Company did the world premiere of Chana Porter’s Leap and the Net Will Appear last season, it was a bona fide success, earning a nomination for Best New Production from the Houston Press Theatre Awards. Little wonder then that the always-innovating company was eager to present another Porter world premiere, the coming-of-age story First Suburb, opening November 15.
Set in the early 1990s on a suburban cul de sac, it’s the story of five preteens on the cusp of adolescence, who find their world upended by shocking and violent act. Catastrophic favorites Tamarie Cooper, Jeanne Harris, Jovan Jackson, Jeff Miller, and Kyle Sturdivant make up the cast.
“Memory can fool you,” says Sturdivant, who is also directing the show. “It’s amazing how two people in the same moment can have different memories of it. And one of the things this play explores is the idea of what we recall has an effect on informing our lives.”
Sturdivant says one of the things that drew him to the script is Porter’s accurate depiction of what it means to leave childhood behind and inch, however slowly, closer to adulthood.
“During this time in your life, you find you’re moving away from your parents, from what they said and think, and your influences become your peers, your music, TV. You’re finding out who you are. I was a latch-key kid with a single mom, growing up in a small Arkansas town of 6,000 people. And it was television that gave me a window to other people’s lives and showed me that people were different from those around me.”
That broadening of boundaries is part of the storyline, as the children in the play realize that the idyllic—or maybe not so idyllic, in some cases—world they’ve grown up in isn’t all that’s out there, and the safety they’ve felt is shattered. Sturdivant found elements of the ABC After School Specials, as well as The Wonder Years and Our Town, in it. He felt the multilayered aspects of the storyline not only represented the era well, but would resonate with audiences.
“The 1990s are definitely a character in the show,” he says. “I think about where we are now, versus where we were then. I mean, think about sexuality, right? In the ‘90s we were just out of the fire of the AIDS crisis, and the word ‘gay’ could have so many different connotations. It’s important to be able to remind people of those things.”
While the subject matter might sound deep and heavy, Sturdivant emphasizes that all the humor and poignancy of growing up are represented as well.
“I want people to laugh and have a good time,” he says. “And I want people to realize that our memories and experiences are what bind us, not what separate us. Here are these kids on a cul de sac, and this event happens. And they have to make the decision about whether to stay in their safe world or broaden themselves and their ideas. We all have to do that, every day.”
Nov. 16–Dec. 9. Tickets pay-what-you-can (Suggested $40). MATCH, 3400 Main St. 713-521-4533. More info and tickets at catastrophictheatre.com.