San Francisco. 1995.
Part-time Berkeley students/full-time ravers, Christina, Hannah and Anders live by the covenant of Goa Dance Trance—a party scene devoted to collective consciousness, sensitivity, awareness, compassion, and mind-altering synthetic drugs. In the middle of the night, in filthy San Francisco warehouses, in the fleeting trance dance moment, they arrive at the door of their spiritual quest to the ethereal essence of Goa Dance Trance.
Fueled by crystal meth, ecstasy, DMT, liquid acid and whatever they just snorted, Anders, Christina and Hannah totter through life and school, waiting for the next party/the next gathering/the next trance dance. In the pursuit of the ethereal essence of Goa Dance Trance, Anders, Christina and Hannah find the reality they seek in the mind-altered state of dance parties. After the gatherings, when the sun comes up and the drugs wear off, the trio argues who loves the dj most, use glitter as a weapon and fall out of love. They must wait for the life affirming next party to rediscover joy and love, except each next gathering seems just a little less truthful, more synthetic. Soon, Anders, Christina and Hannah find themselves collectively—consciously—
Hannah was presented at the Papermill Theater and Papermill Theater Center City in October and November, 2013.
Francesca Piccionni as christina
Ben Grinberg as anders
Laura Sukonick as hannah
written and directed by john Rosenberg
hannah was a really really really good play. probably the best thing i might ever do.
it was super based on my time doing drugs in berkeley.
I listened to dj shadow’s album endtroducing while writing the play.
the first time i got the three actors up on the deck at our old place, it just had a good feeling. they were all very different, different types of training and approaches to acting and life, they seemed to balance each other out.
i think it took me about two months to write the whole play. which made me go whoa.
but the play was the play becuase of cesca, ben and laura.
ben was fucking anders and soulflexed every performance. I had never really worked with an actor who was so gifted physically, and drew so much peroformance from his body. I had never seen an actor work off the ball as well as Ben. He set screens, kept spacing correct, heehaw. he kept the cast loose before shows and everyone had a crush on ben. i didnt get him a lot during rehearsal due to schedule conflicts, but that in turn let us create the perfect character and being of Anders. Dude murdered as Anders. His yoga while talking about Full Moon party, dancing to Two Occassions, looking for crystal on the carpet…heehaw.
francesca was the backbone of the play. she was on-stage the whole time, talked a lot and went on a wild ride with laura. francesca was simply outstanding. i think Francesca got to do shit she had not been given a chance to express before on-stage. It was awesome to see her fly out of her comfort zone. What she was able to find and present was great. The moment that always got me with Cesca was when she was high on ecstacy and became very quiet and was in the back of the aptartment, very clam, having a moment with the box of drugs. It was so truthful and sweet and beautiful. iu also demanded that cecsa push herself and that i wanted her to make me cry at the end of the play. and i would fuck with her after performances, giuving her a eh or almost there. the final weekend, in our apartment, she nailed her thing at the end, i was sititng in the corner and i cried.
what actors maybe dont realize or maybe they do or they dont care, is their performances and their ability to live in emotional truth are all that really matter to me in a play. if they are able to create and live in truth for a good part of the play, i feel validated and can move on to the next one.
laura was the wildcard. i was worried about her and pushed her and nitpicked the shit out of her in rehearsal. but what she created as hannah during performance was singular and beyond fearless and without regrets everytime. She might not have hit her cues for Francesca, but she meant everything she said, whatever it was. Her performance as Hannah is the most truthful performance i have been able to ever offer an audience to witness. She became Hannah and made the play hers to live and die with. Laura Sukonick, fearless monster of the highest order.
We got some really, really positive press about the show.
HANNAH (Hella Fresh): The glories of the sober mind
October 20, 2013 – Julius Ferraro for Phindie.com
In response to a story I wrote about LSD, a college creative writing professor told me that it’s never a good idea to give characters drugs, because if they’re high, they’re not acting like themselves. However terrible my story might have been, I knew instinctively that my professor’s claim was bullshit, but I was never able to prove it. John Rosenberg’s HANNAH, the latest offering of Kensington’s Hella Fresh Theater, offers a bold challenge to this statement, following innocent ex-sorority sister Christine (Francesco Piccioni) as she clambers down into her new roommate Hannah’s (Laura Sukonick) world of drugs, raves, and warehouse parties.
It is initially off-putting just how much of the play’s dialogue comes from drug-altered states of mind. Rosenberg, who also directed HANNAH, has such a lucid grasp of the babble of the narcotics-addled mind that sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the characters are high or not. As they fight, debate, and party, we begin to question the meaning of a sober state of mind. Rosenberg exposes both the silly-scary alienness of the drugged parlance and the meaning behind the meaninglessness. Thus, a line like “What is fuck yes? Alex” can be terrifying, funny, and a major plot point.
Rosenberg is exploring the danger and isolation of the drug-addled state. His characters are constantly transported from high to emotional high through the valleys of depression and horror. Unpredictable as they are, the conflicts are irrepressible and, in the eyes of the audience, unavoidable and unsolvable; particularly since they are potentially groundless, made up, and senseless. Yet HANNAH is much more than a warning siren against drug abuse; it questions the objectivity of perspective and the security and dependability of the sober mind, too.
HANNAH is funny until it isn’t, and Hannah’s life is hard to watch; she can be charming, frightening, and furiously self-destructive. Rosenberg and his impressive cast (Ben Grinberg rounds out the ensemble) depict the characters and their environment with precision (just look at the idiosyncratic set, with thrift store furniture covered in glitter paint, and the pseudo-revolutionary books and empty water bottles scattered across the various tables). But Hannah remains inexplicable; we see her actions, can judge them if we want, but in the end we have to decide for ourselves what she’s worth, what she really wants, and how much of her insecurities and motivations are or aren’t the same as our own.October 12-November 3, 2013, thepapermilltheater.com. Tickets here.
- Another take: check out Phindie writer Kathryn Osenlund’s review of HANNAH for Curtain Up.
- Christopher Munden gives a critical overview of John Rosenberg’s work
- Interview with John Rosenberg, and another one.
- More on John Rosenberg and Hella Fresh Theatre
- Don’t like leaving Broad Street to see shows? Hella Fresh once again offers their much-lauded chauffeur service, transporting audience members between Kensington and Center City. Performances November 2 and 3 will take place at 1714 Sansom.
A CurtainUp Review
hoto credit: Laura Sukonick
This is solid stuff. The play is set in Hannah’s co-op apartment, evidently in ’95 at the height of the West Coast rave scene. I got that date from the program, not from the play itself.
A Berkeley student and raver, Hannah has recently sustained injuries from a boyfriend who ended up killing himself. Christina, her new roommate has arrived. Little is known about her except that at one point she was in a sorority. Both are blitzed from drinking whiskey before they started in on the drugs. Self-dramatizing Hannah repeatedly asks Christina to promise that she won’t kill her. A sweet Christina promises she won’t.
Anders, a former bf of Hannah’s, shows up fresh from a three-month trip to Thailand, where his head still seems to be. He’ll crash in the apartment with them. He claims he’s cleaned up his act, and it looks like he may prove to be a stabilizing influence. But wait, he’s managed to smuggle in ecstasy in powder form. Soon, along with the women, he’s smoking or snorting anything that’s lying around.
The three characters spend their time high on acid and ecstasy at Goa Dance Trance raves and parties, then return to the apartment where they continue with marijuana, crystal, and whatever else is available. The women more or less get around to their schoolwork for Berkeley. Euphoria and intimate sharing get tangled up with diatribes and sudden moments of anger, and then it’s all love again. A utility knife, Hannah’s protection against intruders, remains onstage throughout— like Chekhov’s gun.
I’ve seen only two of John Rosenberg’s works: The Gambling Room and Protection. The promise inherent in these two works is realized in Hannah. He’s particularly adept at catching the easy, slacker profanity that’s become endemic in everyday conversation, along with the motor-mouth natter of meth-fueled, manic temperaments. The prevailing “I’m like” worm has bored deeply into the fabric of the dialogue, and even the iconic “I’m like, Oh! My! God!” is uttered without irony.
With talk, a little goes a long way. No really, a long, long way. Even the characters realize it: Christina: Ohmygodyoutalkalot. . . Hannah: You’ve been talking for hours.
The positive thing about the tons of dialogue is that it’s fresh, real, and humorous, and it achieves the rhythms of regular un-staged life. It’s been worked from each character’s perspective , while allowing for impaired cognitive function on all sides. Still, a bit of Zen balance would be welcome, talk and not-talk.
Laura Sukonick is Hannah, Francesca Piccioni is Christina, and Ben Grinberg is Anders. These actors are so good it would be hard to imagine anyone else in their roles. Centered and well directed, they bring energy and skill to their roles. They’ve internalized all that dialogue and never once appear to have memorized a thing.
Unspecified time passes between brief blackouts and in between acts. Everything rolls together and there’s little sense of how much time has passed. A better understanding of the time in between encounters would be helpful for sorting things out.
The young people, the apartment setting, school stuff and drugs all remind me of This Is Our Youth (1996), the Lonergan three-actor play that ended up the vehicle for many young film actors who hoped to prove their stage chops. That story is different from Hannah, but both plays are full of inertia, compassion, anger, vulnerability, and youth-speak. And both plays favor character over plot. But Hannah is potentially the better play.
However, the attempt at a DIY three-person dance party tanks the end of the first act. Interest flags as the actors, barely discernible in the dark and immersed in their totally blitzed out characters, sort of dance, and mostly hang out for an extended period of time,. (One thing does happen, though: A truth about Hannah is disclosed.) > Then at one point Hannah says to Anders, “You must be so bored right now.” He says no. I say yeah. Some in the audience are, as the end of act one falls into a black hole.
After intermission the play comes roaring back. There’s a long, but key discussion about a paper on Double Indemnity. Christina feels used. Hannah believes Christina has insulted her intelligence. The plot eventually reaches a tipping point. Fissures open and the three amigos are no longer so compatible. Little betrayals, lines crossed, it’s all those kinds of things you can’t see, but are there, shaping lives while careless language floats on top. Anders is ready to get out. Christina is fed up with Hannah’s sympathy ploys and her ‘brave poor thing’ thing. Hannah clings to her rave junkie persona of “Glitter Girl,” a role we learn about late in the game.
Even with the unresolved issues mentioned, this is good theater. It’s unusual to find something of this caliber in the deep recesses of a marginal Philadelphia neighborhood. In my years as a theater critic and member of new play award committees I’ve read and seen hundreds of new plays. A handful of playwrights have something to say, have got the argot, and can pull it off. Rosenberg’s words cascade in a rush to get out as he traces along the fault lines of interaction, exploring the push and pull, and revealing the failings and desires that shape who people are.
A Philadelphia playwright you probably don’t know, but should
October 11, 2013 – Christopher Munden
A hilarious and affecting world premiere by one of the best writers in Philadelphia is opening tomorrow, and you probably don’t know about it.
HANNAH is the newest offering by John Rosenbergof Hella Fresh Theater, who has been producing works in a renovated paper mill in Kensington since 2010. It’s set in a student co-op in California in the mid-1990s “HANNAH is based on the years i was super fucked up in Berkeley,” Rosenberg says. “I had never seen a play set in that world, so I wrote a play about ravers and their lives in between parties.”
Rosenberg’s plays all take place in a specific recent past, backdrops which enrich rather than dominate the works. Alp d’Huez (2012) features an American cycling fan in Paris in 2003—George Bush is leading the country into an internationally reviled war and a U.S. sports star is cheating his way to Tour de France dominance, but the play is about a marriage falling apart. In Automatic Fault Isolation (2012), a young white woman and a young black man meet in a motel in 1960s Alabama, but it is a story about self-creation and youthful delusion, not race. Rosenberg aims for subtle readings of interpersonal relationships informed rather than enslaved by their setting.
So although HANNAH perfectly captures the ecstasy-driven “awkward, dazed, intimate scenes that seem to naturally occur after 1 a.m.”, (as Jake Blumgart put it in the Inquirer), it is not a play about drug use or dance parties. It’s about young people trying out personas and narratives, running away from past traumas while creating new ones.
Writing for the Metro, Bruce Walsh compared Rosenberg’s style to John Cassavetes’s, and there are certainly strains of Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence in Rosenberg’s scripts. His characters speak as people off-stage speak. Considering Automatic Fault Isolation, reviewer Howard Shapiro began “I say something, you respond, I respond, we talk, we go on and on, we get off into tangents, we lose a thread of thoughts when something triggers us to take a new path, to pursue another idea. That’s a conversation.” Writing for this publication, Phindie reviewer Jessica Foleyraved about Rosenberg’s “organically immediate text.”
Hella Fresh’s out-of-the-way Kensington location has prevented Rosenberg from attracting a local theater audience already averse to contemporary theater, but critical praise has been consistent. Shapiro praised the “striking insight” of 2011′s Queen of All Weapons, about a Baader Meinhof era German terrorist and two black panthers in San Francisco. In the City Paper, Mark Cofta described Rosenberg’s plays as “gritty, darkly humorous psychological dramas.” In the Philadelphia Weekly J. Cooper Robb called him a “playwright with a ferocious amount of talent.”
Because of the off-the-beaten track venue and Rosenberg’s lack of connection to Philadelphia’s theater community as a San Francisco transplant, his casts are made mostly of actors new to or on the fringes of the local scene. Some have shone in this setting. Talented actor Jennifer Summerfielddominated Alp d’Huez with a “scene stealing” performance. (See a video of an Alp d’Huezperformance here.) Sebastian Cummings gave hilarious comic performances in Automatic Fault Isolation, Queen of All Weapons, and 2013′s The Gambling Room (set in pre-Tonkin Vietnam).
HANNAH features perhaps Rosenberg’s best ensemble yet. Psychology grad student Laura Sukonick has worked with dysfunctional and addicted youths and brings an intimate psychological understanding and innate comic commitment to the title role. Francesca Piccioni showed her acting chops as a troubled teen in the stellar New City Stage Company cast of last season’s American Sligo. Pig Iron alumnus Ben Grinberg appeared in the recent Fringe hit Pay Up, and shows a physical command characteristic of the Pig Iron school.
Earlier in the year Phindie surveyed local critics for a “Best of” awards. Every respondent who attended Rosenberg’s Alp d’Huez nominated it for the list. On the basis of a final week rehearsal, HANNAH may rival this piece as Rosenberg’s finest work. You like new theater? You really have to see this. HANNAH runsOctober 12-November 3, 2013, thepapermilltheater.com.
By Mark Cofta
John Rosenberg’s latest Hella Fresh Theater project is set in 1995 San Francisco, where part-time Berkeley students Hannah, Christina and Anders live by the covenant of Goa Dance Trance, a party scene devoted to collective consciousness, sensitivity and compassion — all fueled by mind-altering drugs. “When I went to Berkeley,” playwright-director Rosenberg explains, “there were definitely a number of wounded animals who were lost, spinning their wheels, or running from some-thing. … People who kinda fell into the cracks, some made it and some didn’t. I was one of those wounded animals.” He fell in love with a raver, who introduced him “to the world of trance, ecstasy, crystal and snorting things.” His self-produced three-person play is inspired by surviving eight years with “people doing massive amounts of drugs to dull trauma who are under the illusion they are on the path to spiritual consciousness and enlightenment.” Nevertheless, Rosenberg assures us, “It is fucking funny.”
Oct. 12-Nov. 3, $10, Papermill Proving Ground, 2825 Ormes St. (Oct. 12-27) and Papermill Theater Center City, 1714 Sansom St. (Nov. 2-3), 510-292-6403, hellafreshtheater.com.
From warehouse to playhouse
Francesca Piccioni (left) and Laura Sukonick share an apartment in “Hannah,” at Kensington’s Papermill Proving Ground.
POSTED: Sunday, October 6, 2013, 2:02 AM
On Saturday, in a dilapidated warehouse in Kensington, three young people will pretend to be three other young people in a dilapidated warehouse in San Francisco.
John Rosenberg’s Hannah is set in 1995, but the main characters’ conversations, barring the odd mid-’90s pop-culture reference, wouldn’t sound out of place today: Hip young white people discussing which inebriants to ingest, what it really means to be from a city, and what the appropriate term is for the impoverished African American neighborhood they live in.
The three characters are in their early 20s, as, it appears, is the cast. Laura Sukonick and Francesca Piccioni play two new apartment-mates, Christina and Hannah, one a spaced-out partyer, the other a former sorority girl. They quickly bond over past relationships with abusive men and a shared passion for chemicals. Ben Grinberg plays Anders, a former flame and drug buddy of Christina’s, just back from Thailand bearing the kind of wisdom gained from going to too many parties before age 25.
The play isn’t particularly plot-heavy: It’s all how the three characters bounce off each other, old relationships fraying, new ones developing with a rapidity borne of desperation. About midway, the three take ecstasy and the lights dim, resulting in the awkward, dazed, intimate scenes that seem to naturally occur after 1 a.m.
Rosenberg founded Kensington’s Hella Fresh Theater in 2011. Its stage, the Papermill Proving Ground, 2825 Ormes St., is just north of Lehigh Avenue and west of the Somerset stop on the Market-Frankford Line. “If you want a ride, we will come pick you up,” their website promises.
“Hannah” runs Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Saturday through Nov. 3. Tickets are $10.
The first three weekends are in Kensington, the final one at Papermill Theater Center City, 1714 Sansom St.