‘Tough!’ is messy and human, and that’s why it works
I didn’t have high expectations for “Tough!,” the final play of the Performing Arts Department’s season. The play was outdoors, using only a park bench and picnic table under some trees on Mudd Field as props. If the play had happened two weeks ago, or even this upcoming week, it would have been beautiful. As it happened, the day was cold and wet, and every time an actor sat down or fell into the grass, I winced a little with sympathy.
The material itself, too, wasn’t something I particularly looked forward to. “Tough!” is about Tina (senior Emma Flannery) finding out her boyfriend Bobby (sophomore Jason Lyons) cheated on her. But there’s a twist, and one anyone who’s ever seen a soap opera saw coming: Tina is pregnant with Bobby’s baby.
Even with the unpleasant weather and the predictable plot, “Tough!” worked. I found myself practically on the edge of my seat at several points, wondering how the situation would be resolved. I was nervous Bobby and Tina would get back together—and once or twice, I was nervous that they wouldn’t. A lot of the intrigue rests on the strength of the writing, which managed to make a played-out scenario fresh by actually sounding real. There were a startling amount of f-bombs dropped in nearly every line, and the way characters, especially Bobby, swung between hopelessness and frantic energy felt incredibly natural.
The acting, too, held the play together. Though Flannery over-acted at some points, for the most part the performances were nuanced and genuine enough to not only hold interest but be believable. If not for the cordon separating the area of the play from the audience, I could almost believe I had just walked upon this scene between three real people. (Three, as Tina’s best friend Jill [sophomore Chloe Kilpatrick] was present for nearly the entire play as emotional support.) Bobby, especially, felt real—a guy with no idea what he wanted out of life, trying to defend both his cheating and the idea of having dreams from Tina, the girl he wronged but who aspires to nothing. The costuming worked very well to emphasize this dichotomy, with Bobby in a hoodie and Converse while Tina wore a professional-looking jacket and flats.
Neither character was perfectly in the right, which was both refreshing and worrying. Clearly, Bobby was wrong for cheating. But just as clearly, Tina was wrong to advocate against having ambition or goals in life. Jill, too, was wrong for kicking Bobby and repeatedly pushing him around—from six feet away, which led to hilarious miming of a fight while neither cast member was near the other. There was no resolution for that. There couldn’t be, in a short hour and a half. The characters still have flaws, and issues, but they’re not the same as they were at the start of the play, and isn’t that the point? “Tough!” was messy, but that’s what made it human, and I found myself thanking the play for that messiness time and again on that cold afternoon on Mudd Field, watching a slightly over-acted fictional breakup between characters my own age with problems that, while I couldn’t relate to, I could certainly imagine.