Do you remember the first time you had a crush or the first time you kissed someone you liked?
Do you remember what it felt like the first time your heart broke or the first time you realized that even people who love you can hurt you?
I believe the best works of art give you the opportunity to reflect on the moments in your life —the good, the bad, and the spectacular— that shaped you while also empowering, teaching, and guiding the present version of you.
Mahogany L. Browne’s Chlorine Sky does just that.
A story about growing up, finding your strength, loving, losing, and then loving again; Chlorine Sky—based on the book of the same name— is a beautiful depiction of what it feels like to be young and to find and connect with your inner power. A Steppenwolf play for young adults, Chlorine Sky is one of those works of art that anyone—no matter their age— can connect with and learn from.
“What’s great about this story is that it doesn’t matter how old you are,” said Destini Huston, the actress who plays the main antagonist Lay Li. “Or how you identify gender-wise. I feel like we can all relate to putting ourselves in boxes.”
From the actors’ poetic prose flowing into the audience to the way 15-year-old me felt so seen, watching this play made me wonder if there were areas in my life where I needed to reclaim my power. If there were people in my life I loved, but knew weren’t good for me, and if I was playing small when I knew I could play much bigger.
I feel like we can all relate to putting ourselves in boxes.”Destini Huston
Chlorine Sky takes place in an early 2000’s millennial fantasy. The characters have flip phones and wear velour tracksuits. They seem like people who grew up watching AJ and Free on 106 and Park. All of the main characters are in high school. While most of them are concerned with typical high school things—boys, clothes, homecoming—Sky (Akili Ni Mali)—our lead protagonist— is focused on two things, basketball and her dwindling friendship with her soon-to-be “old best friend” Lay Li.
Basketball is the one place where Sky can think and move freely; it’s the one place where she doesn’t box herself in. She is constantly fighting for respect and love from the people who are supposed to offer it to her freely. At school, she’s known as Lay Li’s best friend and the annoying younger sister of Essa (Tiffany Renee Johnson.) Sky was almost comfortable being at odds with Essa, it hurt, but she was used to it. She wasn’t used to feeling this with Lay Li.
She wasn’t used to fighting with Lay Li. They had chosen each other and protected each other’s hearts and secrets. But things changed when Lay Li got her first boyfriend and then her second. She was constantly nagging on Sky and trying to change her. Sky became a project and not a person. She became the target of Lay’s Li’s hurt and irritation. Sky was set on looking past the digs, but eventually, the whispers of Lay Li’s judgment and meanness got too loud to ignore.
Watching the interactions between Sky and her peers ignited a sense of wonder within me. Was I Sky? Had I ever been a Lay Li? I wondered if there were parts of myself I allowed to cower to avoid disturbing the peace.
Tiffany Renee Johnson was also inspired by self-wonder and reflection while performing in Chlorine Sky.
“I’m still figuring out everything that Essa is teaching me,” said Johnson. “There’s an inspiration for me to stand up for myself and to take up space. I see a lot of myself in Sky, a lot of my younger self. I have shed a lot of the things she is learning to shed when we meet her, and I’m also getting rid of those remnants.”
The play ends with Sky reclaiming her power. Standing firm in who she is, taking pride in herself, and refusing to allow anyone to dictate how she views herself or shows up in the world.
Whether you’re trying to find yourself within the noise like Sky, dealing with insecurity like Essa, a champion for yourself and others like Inga (Alexis Ward,) or feeling sad and abandoned like Lay Li; there will be a moment where you identify with every character on the stage.
“I love that regardless of what character we’re playing and regardless of who you are, your age, what you look like, you are always able to find a connection in each character in this story,” said Huston.
I wondered if there were parts of myself I allowed to cower to avoid disturbing the peace.Tajah Ware
Chlorine Sky— a production that lived in self-wonder, understanding, and acceptance— guided me down a journey of reflection in only 90 minutes. From the time the lights dimmed to the bow of the lead actress, this production pulled on the audience’s emotions. We laughed, cheered, and scoffed along with the characters.
A true work of art that demanded self-awareness and reflection from the audience, this play will connect you with your inner 15-year-old and remind you never to shrink, to always stand up for yourself, and to remember there are always brighter days ahead.
“I hope so many people see themselves reflected in Chlorine Sky,” said Johnson. “I hope people feel encouraged, whether they’re younger or older, to overcome and to know that they don’t have to be bound by people’s ideas of them.”
Chlorine Sky will be playing at Steppenwolf Theater through March 11th. Be sure to get a ticket!
Thank you to Steppenwolf Theatre for providing the opportunity to see this production.
We invited young journalists to reflect on the theme “Sense of Wonder.” Click here to follow the stories coming up in our “Wonder” issue.