I SAW AIKA & ROSE twice last weekend: Once on opening night, and once again on Sunday, because the producers begged me. "We've updated it!" they said... and they totally had. Outworld Theater's "supernatural star-crossed teen lesbian love story" had earned my nod on Thursday, but on Sunday it brought me neck tingles and tears. The narrative arc had gotten much steeper; the players were more present and natural. "Oh my god, Aika's mom, please just let them be in love," I silently rooted, much more fervently than the first time.
When the titular teens meet in their "two stoplight" town, Rose is a lifer and Aika and her mother, Momoko, have just arrived. Aika and Rose fall in love over (almost impossibly) precious activities like hopscotch, bike riding, and picnic-blanket sitting, culminating in a first kiss that Aika moons about in her diary. Her mother, meanwhile, is a staunch and superstitious Japanese traditionalist whose views are explained by a kimono-wearing spirit guide, the goddess Benzaiten. She finds the diary and worries that Aika's homosexual leanings will summon evil spirits—and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when the flak she flips her daughter does conjure an "oni," a demon who possesses Aika into a deep depressive trance. Rose attempts to revive her (girl)friend and reason with Momoko, and... I'm not telling the rest.
To call Aika & Rose a "musical" may be an understatement. This crew weighs in so heavily on the music side of the music-theater continuum that they basically break the scale. Amanda Spring, who stars as Rose and co-wrote the production, has been pivotal in the band Point Juncture, WA, fronted ioa, and recently joined Sallie Ford; Sara Hernandez currently sings in Fault Lines, formerly of the Angry Orts; Ben Barnett is best known for his longtime band Kind of Like Spitting—and before that, he was a Thermal. In their bios, the players list more than a dozen different affiliated bands.
Only one instrument—the stage—has so far eluded the group's mastery, making the "theater" side of the production (at least initially) an overreach. On opening night, sound system troubleshooting pushed back the show 40 minutes or so; Sunday, projector problems caused an even longer delay. (They ended up proceeding sans projections, an unexpected improvement.) The footage of country roads and window curtains had actually been distracting, like a TV left on during a conversation. Without it, actors cast massive, spooky shadows on a white screen. Spirit-world characters Benzaiten and Oni especially flourished in this light. "Those projections may have been like Dumbo's feather," says Tai Carmen, Spring's co-writer and co-star who plays Aika. "We didn't actually need them." Agreed.
After all that, I believe the show's finally good to go, and will continue to get better. Now: How do I reconcile my enjoyment of the story and songs with my obligation to acknowledge Outworld's theater-tech faux pas? I propose re-categorization. Can we align this show with the Fertile Ground Festival, where fledgling efforts are already in the air? And can we call this first stint of shows what they actually were: preview performances? C'mon, Mom, just let me be in love.