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Teen Angst Boils Over at a Chaotic Murder Mystery Party in Dramarama

Teen Angst Boils Over at a Chaotic Murder Mystery Party in ‘Dramarama'

Teen Angst Boils Over at a Chaotic Murder Mystery Party in ‘Dramarama'

Set in the 90s, gay teen struggles to come out to his conservative group of theater friends in this Outfest 2021 film selection.

StickyKeys

For some of us, high school vacillated between excruciatingly boring and hell on earth. Sure, there were a few bright spots, but it was rare that these included things like Homecoming court and “sports.” For those who were more creatively inclined, things like drama club or acting class were the one place you could really express yourself in an environment where people got you. Even in the most conservative of locations, drama club brought together so-called freaks from all corners to celebrate being "extra." Extra weird, extra dramatic and even extra misunderstood. There was some outside mocking, but it didn’t matter because once you crossed that threshold, the rules changed and a whole new world existed. That world that’s lovingly captured in Jonathan Wysocki’s Dramarama

Featured as an Official Selection at Outfest 2020, Dramarama is a slick coming-of-age character study disguised as a teen romp. On its face, it’s extremely charming, but the nostalgia and the many layers each character possesses elevate the film greatly. It’s a film with a simple premise - a theatre group gets together for one last sleepover before going off to college.

The not-so-simple of it all involves Gene (Nick Pugliese in his debut feature role) trying to come out as gay and agnostic, Oscar (Nico Greetham) exaggerating his future plans of going to Los Angeles to become an actor, and Rose (Anna Grace Barlow) going to NY while trying to hide a secret while also maintaining her frenemy-like jealousy towards future diva Ally (Danielle Kay, also in her first feature role). There’s also Claire (Megan Suri) who has already completed her first year at a Christian college and has very particular thoughts about the state of the world and how it should be lived. We see her deal with the challenge of those ideals throughout the film. And finally, JD (Zak Henri) who is to some, a cool kid, and to others, a nuisance. He serves as a disrupter to the evening while the kids contemplate what ties really bind them. 

The theme of the sleepover is a costumed murder mystery party (because of course it is) wherein each participant dresses as a literary figure. Rose is an aged Mrs. Havisham while Claire is a stunningly apt Alice straight from Wonderland. Nico is Sherlock Holmes, Ally is The Bride of Dracula and our protagonist Gene comes as Mr. Hyde, another spot on costume as we learn Gene has been living two lives. His inability to come out is rooted in his own insecurity and also the insecurity provided by the mostly conservative Escondido in the 1990s. His friends are creative and outgoing, but they’re also religious and still bound to the ideology of their past. Can Gene trust them to be tolerant?

As he struggles during the night to tell his friends he’s gay, we see them go through typical sleepover rounds. As the murder mystery element is abandoned to technical difficulties and JD’s wastoid attitude, we see the group break into several theater games. From “flashlight homosexual” to “bad stage combat,” these games serve as reconciliation points. 

These are important problems the kids are dealing with, but they’re still kids. The party snacks include Ruffles and Cheetohs laid out on crystal platters. The cocktail of the evening is Martinelli's sparkling apple cider and it’s the height of sophistication.

Their youthful nature extends to conflict resolution. There’s stomping off and being alone until someone comes to find you (and they will always come), but there are also creative methods of peacekeeping. At one point, to stop an argument, they all turn into the Showbiz Pizza Place Band (remember that?!) to lighten the mood. Wouldn’t every work conflict or traffic court appearance go more smoothly if we were allowed to recess into “real-life scene re-enactments” to lessen the stress? When you’re living in these moments it’s easy to criticize yourself as being immature or infantile, but looking back after 20 years, the grace you’re able to employ to these characters can also be applied to yourself.

Dramarama is like a warm hug that shares a timely message; that no matter which way you relate to the story, you’re not alone and your experience is valid and beautiful. It’s heavy lifting for a 90-minute indie film, but it’s effective without being heavy-handed, and it’s very fun. 

I watched the film last year at the Outfest2020 drive-in and again at their theater premiere at the Laemmle in Los Angeles. I found so much that I missed and re-discovered so many enjoyable moments. Technically, Dramarama is a beautifully shot homage to the mid-’90s. The fashions, the lingo and even fun vintage props help elevate what are already stunning performances. The cast is invested fully in each character and their passion jumps off the screen.

I highly recommend this film and be sure to follow them on Instagram for behind-the-scenes goodies and more screening news. Dramarama is currently screening in theaters and virtual cinemas. Check out the full schedule to find a showing near you!

Before I go, I wanted to aim a flashlight on two of the film’s stars: Danielle Kay and Nick Pugliese. The two became fast friends after working on Dramarama. During quarantine while neither was working, they collaborated on the short Thank You For Being Here. It’s a small tale of a girl who thinks she may be pregnant. This is stressful enough on its own, but add in that she has a long-distance girlfriend she hasn’t seen in months and a roommate who is unexpectedly home when she tries to take the test, and the potential for overwhelming drama is high. Shot and directed by Pugliese’s roommate, Elizabeth Archer in their bathroom on a shoestring budget, the film makes the most of its minimalist setting with an emotional and real script and excellent performances. 

The short will be shown during the What a Girl Wants short series during Outfest2021 and is available virtually until 8/23 and then will move on to other festivals. 

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Stacey Yvonne

Stacey Yvonne is a contributor who is often found in some corner of the internet pontificating about pop culture and its effect on women, Blackfolk and the LGBTQIA+ community. As a summa cum laude graduate from the School of Hardknocks (with an emphasis in "these streets") she has learned the beauty of finding fascination in everything. She's constantly threatening to write a screenplay of her life and she'll do it, just as soon as this show is over.

Stacey Yvonne is a contributor who is often found in some corner of the internet pontificating about pop culture and its effect on women, Blackfolk and the LGBTQIA+ community. As a summa cum laude graduate from the School of Hardknocks (with an emphasis in "these streets") she has learned the beauty of finding fascination in everything. She's constantly threatening to write a screenplay of her life and she'll do it, just as soon as this show is over.