Things will get a little dark at Franklin Park Arts Center this weekend.
The venue, known mostly for family-oriented productions, hosts an original psychological thriller by two young Loudoun playwrights. “Love, He Called It” is a twist on the stalker genre intended for an audience of older teens and adults.
“This play is edgier than what I’ve ever seen Franklin Park do,” said the play’s co-writer/co-director Christian Jost.
Jost, 19, wrote the play with collaborator Sean Phillips, 20, and both young men are also in the cast. Set at a fictional college campus, “Love, He Called It” tells the story of the relationship between college students Ethan and Sabrina, as Ethan’s interest in Sabrina turns into an obsession.
The play starts out with comedic bent, Jost said, but gets darker as the narrative moves on, exploring the mindsets of both stalker and victim. The dialogue delves into Ethan’s past, exploring the path that led to his obsessive traits and also explores Sabrina’s perspective, and the dismissal of her concerns by authority figures.
“One thing that we try to explore in the show is how adults, particularly Sabrina’s teachers, in the show dismiss young adult problems as not being important,” Jost said.
“Love, He Called It”
7:30 p.m. Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25, 2 p.m. Sunday, June 26
Franklin Park Arts Center, Purcellville
Tickets: $10 at the door
The play has some adult themes and language and is recommended for older teens and adults.
The two characters are rarely on stage together during the performance, but the audience gets a glimpse of the parallel psychological transformations each undergoes.
Jost, who enjoys the role of writer and director but whose real passion has always been performing, stars as Ethan, with Pace University junior Carsen Howard in the role of Sabrina and Phillips, in a supporting role. The cast of seven also includes Northern Virginia Community College students Brian Tepe, Dan Hepler and Joe Von Duhm and Loudoun Valley High School senior Megan Green.
The show is something of a departure for Franklin Park, which is best known for G-rated musical theater, music and dance.
“We really wanted to make it clear that this is not for kids,” said Franklin Park Manager Elizabeth Bracey. But while Bracey sees providing entertainment for families as a big part of the center’s role, there is room for more experimental fare. “Part of our mission is to support emerging artists,” she said.
While Franklin Park’s website describes the production as “rated R,” (in an effort to underscore that the production is not for young audiences), Jost’s description is a little more nuanced. The play contains adult theater and themes but no nudity or graphic violence.
“It has a little violence, crude humor, but nothing really bad,” Jost said. “We wanted to be honest with how college kids talk. All the characters are college kids. We wanted to be sincere about the language they use because we want to be realistic.”
For Jost and Phillips, who rented the facility for the production, the play has been a labor of love, and the directors/producers are simply looking for ticket sales to over their costs. The collaborators were very much aware that an original play might not have the kind of box office draw as a well-known musical.
“We knew it when we started, but we also knew that things like this are important. As much as I love musicals, these original plays will really educate people about theater,” Jost said. “Theater companies do stuff partially to make money so they can do the next show. We weren’t worried about that.”
Jost and Phillips began collaborating a few years ago as drama students at Tuscarora High School in Leesburg. While at Tuscarora, the pair co-wrote a play focused on autism awareness in 2014. Their original work, “Silence,” told the story of a high school student with Asperger’s syndrome. Phillips graduated in 2014, and Jost went on to finish his high school career in 2015 under the direction of beloved drama teacher Russ Staggs at Loudoun Valley High School.
While Phillips, a student at NVCC, became heavily involved in the college’s theater programs, Jost has pursued his passion for acting, appearing in productions by Main Street Theatre and other community productions.
“Love, He Called It” will be the team’s last collaboration for a while. Phillips recently completed his second year at NVCC and will attend George Mason University in the fall. Jost, meanwhile, takes the plunge as an actor, heading to Los Angeles to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
And Jost expects to leave the Loudoun theater scene with some buzz, as audiences get into his characters’ heads and watch the play end with an unexpected twist.
“It’s shocking. When the cast read it they didn’t know what to think,” he said. “I think as people leave the theater, they’ll also be talking about it and it’ll be quite the discussion.”