One Girl, Two Cities

Review: Just Before Sleep by Youth Performance Company

just before sleep youth performance companyYouth Performance Company has been part of the Twin Cities community for 27 years and aims to make theater participation accessible to youth of any socio-economic status. Just Before Sleep is their current production (through Feb 14), and James Still’s play tells one family’s story of their struggle with homelessness and attempting to sort their way through the social assistance system.

Jasmine Porter plays Sonia, the mother, whose husband passed away, and now she must pick up the pieces for herself and her two children. Porter speaks a little too quickly at times but her emotions are believable, and her passion comes through loud and clear. Her young daughter Tara is played by Sophie Kuether who’s cute as a button, and you’ll be drawn in by Tara’s happy-go-lucky attitude despite her battle with hunger pains and not understanding why they would have to spend a night sleeping on the street.

Noah Ratgen plays Sonia’s teenage son, Justin, and he is the stand out of the show for me. Justin battles with so many different things throughout the show: secrets from the past, wanting to help feed his family, fitting in at school, and more. This role is so complex, and Ratgen handles it like a pro, stirring up a great amount of empathy for Justin.

This play shows you that everyone’s story is different and that you can’t make assumptions about why someone is homeless. Sonia’s problems spiral quickly: she can’t get a job because she doesn’t have a home address, she can’t afford a place to live without a job, when one of them falls sick they can’t get medical help because they don’t have insurance, and the list goes on and on.

As she continues to fight the system, perhaps you’ll find yourself as baffled as I was at how many hoops people must jump through to receive help. You’ll also get a glimpse into the mindset of what could happen once you start to face homelessness: when to sleep on the street versus sleeping in a shelter, taking food out of the garbage, if you would resort to stealing.

YPC provided a few statistics about homelessness:

Lack of affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness.

36% of the homeless population is families.

Every year, more than 1.7 million teens experience homelessness.

On any given night, more that 6,000 people in America are homeless.

It’s hard to believe, right? So what can people do to help? Well, that’s the one thing I was hoping to glean from the show that I didn’t. I would have loved a post-show talk back so people could learn what the cast & crew did to prepare for this play, along with where we might be able to donate money or volunteer. Of course, a quick internet search will provide you with many options. The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless is one of the first hits I got, and you can donate online. My friends at Minneapolis Happening have an ongoing volunteer list -here that may include some options if you’d like to offer your time (I’d recommend starting with Bridge for Youth).

Youth Performance Company’s Just Before Sleep runs now through Feb 14 at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center which is located inside Plymouth Congregational Church. You can park in the church’s parking lot, and the run time is about one hour. The show is recommended for 4th graders and up. Click here to purchase tickets, or check Goldstar for availability. If you can fit it into your schedule, please go see this moving play.

*Update: Thanks to Sonia for commenting that YPC included some information in their newsletter. Click here to read it.

6 thoughts on “Review: Just Before Sleep by Youth Performance Company

  1. Sonia Richardson

    Our daughter Kyra Richardson plays Karla, and we love that she is involved in a theater that cares about people.

    I would think YPC has an educator packet to help guide conversations with students. The idea of post-show event is a really good one. By the way, YPC’s most recent newsletter gives some good thoughts and resources. People can check it out at (And Kyra and Noah are highlighted!)

    1. Sonia Richardson

      Oops, wrong link for the newsletter! (Although there really are lots of great summer class options.) Here’s the correct one:

      1. Laura VanZandt Post author

        Thank you so much, Sonia! This is good to know. I read the program probably 5 times to make sure I wasn’t missing something so I’ll have to get signed up for the newsletter. 🙂 Kyra has such a beautiful voice!!

  2. Sarabeth Marcello

    It’s too bad I missed the window for this show. It sounds like it was very compelling. I’ll keep my eyes open for more shows from them. I love knowing that the theatre is doing more than putting on a show–it’s impacting the lives of its young actors.

    1. Laura VanZandt Post author

      I’m looking forward to seeing more from them, too! We have Lyric Arts, Children’s Theater and Stages for very young actors but I haven’t seen much for teenagers and to have one sharing such powerful stories – it’s pretty awesome. Thanks for reading & commenting!

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