Last week, Payton Leutner, the victim in the Wisconsin “Slender Man” attack in which two of her schoolmates stabbed her multiple times as tribute to a fictional ghoul (one they believed to be real), spoke out for the first time since the horrific event. That’s serendipitous timing for Underscore Theatre Company’s new musical by composer Alexander Sage Oyen and book writer Austin Rega. In Proxy, Vanessa (Carisa Gonzalez) is 15 years out from the time her best friend, Veronica, or Ronnie (Tessa Dettman), plunged a knife into her torso a dozen times.
Since then, Vanessa has been staying far away from her Minnesota family—not even her father’s death from pancreatic cancer has brought her closer to her mother, Martha (Jenny Rudnick), and her slacker brother, Sean (an ingratiating Kyle Kite). She prefers dealing with her trauma on her own, which means she’s not really dealing with it at all.
That changes when she decides to help save the Internet publication where she works as a staff writer with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Doug (Michael Mejia), by going undercover at the mental institution where Ronnie now lives to interview her. Big story! Massive clicks!
It’s a tribute to Gonzalez and Dettman in particular that they make the scenes between the two women carry so much emotional weight, divvied up by measures of regret, confusion, rage, and a numb but palpable sense of compassion. There’s the nugget of a great question here: How do we forgive the worst thing that ever happened to us, and do we need to do that in order to fully live again?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of narrative throat clearing in the first act before we get to the heart of that relationship, and some of the awkward transitions in Stephanie Rohr’s staging deplete the momentum as well. Yet there are enough solid interludes in Proxy to hope that the creative team will take—wait for it—another stab at the material. v