Kate & Sam's young star delivers terrifying command performance 

Even with advance warning, What If? Productions' play manages to shock

Before the start of Kate & Sam Are Not Breaking Up, director Kyle Barnette gave the audience a final notice that the show would include "live gunfire, blood, and lovely foul language." We were forewarned, but all three of these things still managed to shock.

In the play, movie stars and former lovers Kate (Giulia Marie Dalbec) and Sam (Michael David Wilson) have just announced their breakup, to the horror of fans who watched their on-screen relationship in the paranormal romance series Ghost Forest. Kate and Sam find themselves duct-taped in the sad apartment of superfan Bill (Andre Hinds), waking from a drug-induced stupor to learn that their kidnapper wants them to get back together as a couple.

It's a script that goes for shock and mostly succeeds. In last night's East Coast premiere, the biggest shock of all was Eden Teichman, a 15-year-old Charleston School of the Arts student who played the role of Ghost Forest fansite moderator Becky. Teichman rattled off dialogue at machine-gun pace, stalking the room and crossing all of the characters' personal boundaries with frightening physicality. She's not the first actor to pull out a gun, but she's the first one who looks like she means it.

"It's like, if you two can't make it work, like, does love even exist?" Teichman asks at one point. Good God, we hope so. Teichman's portrayal of Becky straddles the blurry line between average teenage hellion and full-blown sociopath. Bravo. (Teichman also stars in Threshold Repertory Theatre's Piccolo Spoleto production 1963, opening tonight.)

The single set, Bill's apartment, is appropriately messy and littered with Ghost Forest paraphernalia, including posters that spoof a certain other paranormal romance series. As Bill, Hinds plays a lovable schlub, earning big laughs early on with his shambling stage presence and wide-eyed innocence.

If Teichman and Hinds are the comedic actors, Dalbec and Wilson play the straight characters as Kate and Sam. Dalbec's terror is convincing, as are her withering glares when Wilson suggests that they play along to win their captors' favor. The pair have real friction onstage as a recently broken-up couple, and Wilson imbues his character with a charm that would make real-life fans swoon. In cutaway scenes where they re-enact snippets of Ghost Forest, the pair also do an admirable job of mocking the bad acting of the Twilight series — particularly Dalbec, who spits the mushy lines out with alternating contempt and indifference.

But while Dalbec plays a pitch-perfect ice queen, the role calls for a few moments of emotional transparency, and we would have liked to see her soften up a bit more when she entered confessional mode.

Kate & Sam is the third play that What If? Productions has adapted from Chicago's New Colony, after Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche and last year's relentlessly bleak Hearts Full of Blood. It's a comedy, and writer Joel Kim Booster doesn't seem to want us to forget it. The laughs keep coming throughout, but with a premise that screams dark comedy, the play could use a few more joke-less moments to let the humor blacken.

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