Last night at Dixon Place, Kestryl Cael played out memories of being in a “lock-down institution that borrows discipline from Guantanamo and staff from the Church of Latter-Day Saints.”
348 is not, like Cael’s dramatic exploration of masculinity XY(T), really about gender. Rather, the performance explores the lucrative industry catering to so-called troubled teens who are locked up and severely disciplined—even institutionally abused—at their parents behest. It’s a booming industry supported, as Cael points out, “by parental concern and a checkbook.” Incarcerated kids are known only as numbers, such as the 348 of the performance’s title
Cael calls the troubled teen industry a financial boon to Mormon institutions in particular, which play on the fears of scared parents with inadequate parenting or coping skills and teenagers whose outward rebellion masks confusion over sexual orientation, anxiety about gender identity or simple boredom.
Where the pathology truly lies – with the incarcerated teens, or with the institutions that prey on every fear and phobia of suburban parents—is the theme of 348. It’s a good question to address, an idea which time has come.
Cael’s friendly introduction to his story, a “let’s get to know each other and see if we can relate with the audience” Q&A, was astonishing. Cael asked the audience how many were on meds, had had a psychiatric diagnosis, had been locked up in a psychiatric ward or penal institution, had attempted suicide—and far too many hands were raised. The line of questioning resonated with me: I raised my hand to all of them, except having been successful at suicide.
348 is completely mesmerizing, enlightening and frightening all at once. Last night’s performance was a work-in-progress directed by Jonathan Warman. Keep your eyes peeled for the work to open at another venue with further dates in New York. And, catch up with Kestryl Cael at pomofreakshow.com.