Talia Brenner, a student at Walt Whitman High School , reviews Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s ‘A Taste of Honey’ as part of the Cappies Critics and Awards Program.
With stark characters, flawless historical accuracy, and heart-rending emotion, Thomas Jefferson High School students unmasked the stories of working-class British youth in their poignant drama, A Taste of Honey.
Written by Shelagh Delaney in 1958, A Taste of Honey was a pioneer of the “kitchen-sink” genre, a school that sought to honestly portray social issues. In accordance with kitchen-sink realism, a cast of five students performed in black-box style, with a static set and minimal technical elements. As Thomas Jefferson does not have a black-box, audiences sat on the school’s proscenium stage, facing a small arena in the theater’s wings. The backstage of a theater is an acoustically awkward space, but all actors used excellent projection to be consistently audible.
Jo (Liesl Jaeger) is a tragic heroine of sorts, devoting herself to various relationships—both familial and romantic—and suffering as each one ends. Jaeger effectively interpreted Jo as an immature and naïve woman; her longing glances and unconfident posture show that Jo never realizes her dreams for independence. Quite unlike her thoughtful daughter, Jo’s mother, Helen, (Jordan Goodson) is a brazen, unabashed woman, almost completely indifferent to Jo’s needs. Goodson’s stellar portrayal was both attention-grabbing and astute, giving deep insight into a character that could easily be seen as a static villain.
Especially in the conformist atmosphere of the mid-20th century, effeminate men in literature were depicted as comic relief; A Taste of Honey’s Geof, however, is a multifaceted character. Although he only appeared in the second act, Jake Gonzalez managed to show Geof’s full development and to convey his many conflicting emotions regarding Jo, a fellow outcast who accepts him.
In a five-member cast, every character holds an important function in the plot. As Helen’s sleazy spouse and Jo’s light-hearted boyfriend, a black sailor, Daniel Sainati and Anthony Carrington, respectively, did not disappoint. Both actors used character-appropriate movements to further enhance their roles.
Technical elements, though intentionally understated, truly succeeded in establishing the play’s 1950s, working-class setting. Liesl Jaeger’s costumes used color to hint at character’s personalities, while maintaining historically accurate silhouettes. Additionally impressive was the sheer number of student-made costumes. Yena Seo, Meena Nayagam, Abby Peterson, and Natasha Shukla intelligently kept makeup design simple, as not to appear overwhelming in a small performance space. Ally Scholle and Chris Doan’s lighting design consisted of the flat’s single bulb, as well as other dim lights that kept actors visible even when the flat was dark.
Although it is set over fifty years ago, A Taste of Honey shows the extent of the destructive forces of bigotry in a manner that is still painfully applicable today. Thomas Jefferson Drama students performed a production so moving that audience members will bring the play’s strong call for diversity and acceptance home to their own kitchen sinks.