Looks like teen spirit

Blue Room’s The Valley takes a jab at gossipy dramas

VALLEY GIRLS (AND GUYS)<br>The four-teen cast of <i>The Valley</i> features Lindsay Ashcraft (bottom), Vance Michael Lynch (right), Nalini Varahamurti and Andrew Deaver.

The four-teen cast of The Valley features Lindsay Ashcraft (bottom), Vance Michael Lynch (right), Nalini Varahamurti and Andrew Deaver.

Courtesy Of THE VALLEY

Who is the father of Emily’s unborn child? Will Swift get help for his drinking habits? Is Ben taking steroids? Does RJ like Ben?

It’s the fodder that soap operas are made of, the kind of cliffhangers that force millions of viewers to “tune in next time” … or come back next time, now that the stuff of Gossip Girl and The O.C. has hit the stage.

The Valley is “an episodic performance that satirizes teen drama,” described Tamara Jensen, the Chico show’s creator. The weekly Blue Room Theatre performance portrays typical teen dramas—breakups, pregnancy, drinking, strained parental relationships and body image—with a comedic slant.

The show has a small cast of four local teens. They plan on doing five episodes and then will perform a marathon of all the episodes.

Jensen, the drama teacher at Pleasant Valley High School for nine years, saw a niche in theater that she felt wasn’t being fulfilled. She called up some of her former students and asked what they thought of the idea and if they would help make it happen. They enthusiastically accepted.

“I’m around teens all day, so I see a lot of similarities,” she said. “It’s funny because a lot of teens come up to me after the show and ask ‘Did you take that from my life?’ “

Tamara Jensen and Libby Jensen (no relation) collaborate with the cast members to write and produce the drama. The group gets together about a week and a half before the next episode and comes up with ideas for the script as Libby Jensen types. The rest of the time is spent perfecting the script and rehearsing.

The Valley takes a jab at television teens through a set of archetypal characters such as Emily, the ditzy, wide-eyed blonde played by 18-year-old Lindsay Ashcraft. Ben (17-year-old Vance Michael Lynch) is the all-American boy who struggles with his body image and regrets breaking up with Emily. RJ (19-year-old Nalini Varahamurti) is Emily’s best friend and the school gossip queen; comic relief comes in the role of Ben’s best friend, the alcohol-loving Swift (17-year-old Andrew Deaver).

Not surprisingly, The Valley audience is predominantly made up of teenagers and parents.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t normally come to theater,” Deaver said. “We have some of the TV audience.”

The Valley could almost be seen as a spoof of a spoof, as the actors overexaggerate their lines and movements. A recent performance of episode three had the audience in stitches, so it looks like The Valley has a grasp on the demographic that tunes into TV shows like The Hills and One Tree Hill.

“I think there are three types of audience members,” Libby Jensen observed. “There is one set of teens that laugh and don’t take the drama seriously. The other teens think it is very real and true to them. And then there are adults who find it more nostalgic.”

Episode one doesn’t waste any time in getting to the drama: Emily and Ben break up; Emily messes around with Swift, and the show ends leaving the crowd hanging for episode two to find out whether Emily is pregnant. (It’s not until the third episode that Emily finds out she’s not pregnant because, well, she’s never had sex.)

Those who need to catch up on the storyline can find summaries on The Valley‘s MySpace page (www.myspace.com/thevalley08) or at the beginning of each show when the cast does a recap of the previous show’s happenings.

Audiences will just have to wait to find out who RJ has a crush on, and if there will be an intervention for Swift and his drinking problem. According to the cast, weekly viewers are already hooked, and the actors have been keeping tight-lipped on what’s in store.

“A lot of people are trying to get out of us what’s going to happen next,” Lynch said. “I had to wrestle [the script for] episode three away from my mom.”