October 11, 2012 at 9:46 am EDT | by Patrick Folliard
Don’t look in the basement

‘Holly Down In Heaven’
Through Oct. 20
Forum Theatre
Round House Theatre Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

Maya Jackson, Holly, Kara Lee Corthron, Holly Down in Heaven, Round House Theatre, Washington Blade gay news

Maya Jackson as Holly in Kara Lee Corthron’s ‘Holly Down in Heaven.’ (Photo courtesy Round House Theatre)

Holly keeps counsel with dolls. When you’re a teenager marking time in your basement far from the world, it gets lonely. So she talks to them. And they talk back. Occasionally she even gets some good advice.

Emerging playwright Kara Lee Corthron writes thoughtfully about young women. In her funny and oddly heartwarming “Holly Down In Heaven” (currently making its world premiere at Forum Theatre in a fresh production ably staged by the company’s artistic director Michael Dove), Corthron explores a chaotic childhood journey.

After learning she’s pregnant, 15-year-old honor student Holly (Maya Jackson) sentences herself to nine months downstairs, vowing not to come up again until the baby is born. There, surrounded by her vast doll collection, she waits. Her indulgent widowed father (KenYatta Rogers) however has different ideas. From upstairs he keeps a close eye on his only child, gently encouraging her to consider alternatives to keeping the baby. For born again Christian Holly, abortion is out. She’s adamant: her intention is to remain underground, see no doctors and become a mother.

Tucked away, Holly seeks comfort from her dolls. Displayed on shelves around the perimeter of the open room, they’re arranged singly and in groups. The black contingent headed by a sassy Cabbage Patch baby includes a tiny, diplomatic Kofi Annan; next to them is a ponderously earnest Native American; then there are the Victorian dolls, most notably Queen Victoria herself; and across the basement in a spot lit place of honor stands a graceful Geisha girl (voiced by KyoSin).

Increasingly, conversation between Holly and the dolls centers on their reluctance to share her with a living, breathing baby. Sometimes these talks (actually just Holly talking to herself) become overly heated; and when it does, she quells the mayhem with threats of putting certain dolls in storage or even striking a match. (Like the “Wizard of Oz’s” scarecrow, these chatty collectibles are acutely aware of their flammability.)

For more serious chats, Holly goes one-on-one with her prized psychiatrist doll that bears a resemblance to Carol Channing in appearance and voice. The straight talking, potty-mouthed shrink (expertly handled and hilariously voiced by Vanessa Strickland) encourages her adolescent patient to become less closed off from the humans in her life.

Yes, non-dolls occasionally do make the subterranean scene: In addition to her father, Holly’s tutor Mia (Dawn Thomas), an agreeably neurotic grad student with father issues comes three times a week; and Yager (Parker Drown), the gamer next door pays brief unsolicited visits entering and exiting via a basement window.

Holly is at turns charming and charmless. A bundle of teenage hormones (and pregnant to boot), she is changeable and bratty as she explores notions of independence, relationships and faith. In the title role, Jackson perfectly places her character between little girl and young woman.

As Holly’s inept but well-meaning ex-boyfriend Yager, Drown (who’s gay) gives a terrifically understated performance, securing his growing reputation as a versatile local actor. He’s unrecognizable from his Helen Hayes Award-winning performance as Angel, the drum beating drag queen in Keegan Theatre’s production of “Rent.”

Sometimes the longish “Holly Down In Heaven” doesn’t seem sure what kind of play it is, veering from thoughtful comedy to sticky sitcom, but its general quirkiness make it worth a go.

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