What's it about?
Safe is an original play about a teenage girl named Nina, insecure, struggling with her weight, and forced to live with her estranged father in New York City while her mother is in rehab for alcoholism. At her most vulnerable, Nina meets an older man named Phillip at Starbucks, and the two begin to spend more time with each other, their relationship evolving from seemingly harmless to downright unsafe.
What'd I experience?
It's no picnic being a teenage girl. The peer pressure, the poor body image, and the feeling you'll die alone can all add up to rather a lot. I remember it well, because it wasn't so long ago that I was a teenage girl, living in New York City and doing my best to get by. So when I was introduced to Nina, I immediately felt for her. Smoking cigarettes, compulsively eating, uncomfortable in her own skin, she was so young and yet she already felt like she had been through too much. And so she coped as best as she could in order to feel safe. Food was her safety net.
Nina's best friend Liz was very classically pretty, popular with the boys, but anorexic, with a neglectful mother and an absentee father. It's scary not to feel safe in your own home, and so Liz tried to take control of her life and manufacture a feeling of safety by restricting her diet, resulting in her forced hospitalization.
When Nina met Phillip, a man who had to have been in his early 30s at the very least, I didn't trust him on sight. He gave off major stranger danger vibes and everything my savvy New Yorker mother had drilled into my head growing up kept dropping to the forefront of my mind:
"There's no reason for an adult to ever befriend a child they are unrelated to." "An adult should never put themselves in a situation with a child where a boundary could be crossed."
The interest Phillip took in Nina and her life crossed a line before the two even met. He was watching her, observing, and it gave me the heebie-jeebies because even though Nina might have had a woman's body, she was not a woman mentally or emotionally, and she had clearly just come from school, still sporting her private school uniform and toting school books. And of course Nina, being as starved for attention as she was, was drawn to a man who praised her and took notice of her strengths, telling her that he could see her in famous paintings, bordered by a gilded frame.
On a trip to the Met, Nina broke down in front of Phillip, upset because she felt inferior to the types of women she saw represented in the paintings around her. Phillip instructed her to close her eyes, and he placed his hand on her knee. I was on high alert. He had already gone too far, but legally, he had committed no crimes (to my knowledge). Nina opened her eyes, kissed Phillip briefly on the lips, and HE KISSED HER BACK, passionately. I knew why Nina was eager to kiss Phillip: Feeling wanted and beautiful, especially when you're unused to feeling that way, makes you feel safe. But I couldn't feel any empathy for Phillip, because despite his polite demeanor, he was preying on a young, impressionable girl, a girl whose trust he gained all behind the backs of the adults protecting her. I don't believe that Phillip thought he was evil or worthy of condemnation. He had deluded himself into thinking he was helping Nina, improving her self-confidence. He didn't set out to cause her harm, even though ultimately he could see that he had. But that didn't make Phillip worthy of pity in my mind, even if playing the savior in the lives of damaged teenage girls was his way of feeling safe. I knew that Nina was the victim, the one who wanted so badly to feel safe, that she put herself and her life as she knew it in great danger.
Safe made me realize just how deeply we all crave a feeling of safety, and how some of us will go to potentially damaging lengths in order to achieve that feeling. Me? I have trouble leaving my comfort zone. I would never consider traveling alone or living anywhere other than New York City. This city (and the people in it) makes me feel safe. I sleep in a room with glow-in-the-dark stars on the walls, lighting my surroundings just enough so that I can close my eyes without fear of falling into the blackness.