The set-up: Being a 13-year old girl is so miserable! The raging hormones, the mounting angst, not to mention those growing body parts causing utter confusion both physically and emotionally, it all chokes up to one of the most disturbing times in a young woman's life. This distressing era is the center of Stark Naked Theatre Company's newest production, All Girls, written by up-and-coming playwright Anna Greenfield.
The execution: Three 13-year old friends, Morgan (Susannah Eig), Jenny (Amy Michele Mire) and Claude (Victoria Villarreal) are spending their last summer together before high school. Morgan, the trio's highly adored leader, is right at the cusp of moving on from her childhood friends to a new life replete with boys, drinking and adulthood. Her polar opposite is Claude, a goofball in a pair of Winnie the Pooh overalls, who still finds joy in make believe. Jenny complements the two; her body has developed early but her maturity level has not. A fiery personality with a dirty mouth to match, Jenny has little respect for authority; only Morgan can tell her what to do.
Not much happens in All Girls yet so much happens at the same time. The interchange between the characters is an endless stream of thrusts and parries, insults and hugs, ego boosters and esteem destruction, totally what you would expect from a bunch of preteen girls. The dialogue ranges from purposefully witty to awkwardly uncomfortable to downright nasty, and the actresses don't miss a beat.
Eig's Morgan is every girl you hated in middle school but wished you could be. She knows what to say, what to wear and how to act, but she is more confused than anyone else. Eig plays her overly-confident, but with a secret lining of emotional instability. Villarreal's unfortunately nerdy Claude is the play's comic relief. She sings, dances and makes poor attempts at gymnastics, which is hilarious but at times takes away from the character's pathos. The strongest performance of the three comes from Mire. Unable to hide her intense anger and resentment at the trajectory of life, Jenny lashes out at anyone and everyone only to be embarrassed by her own uncontrollable emotions.
And then there is Morgan's mother. As Morgan's mother, Mrs. Gray, veteran actress Kim Tobin is a powerhouse. The character is a master manipulator teetering on the edge of sociopath, and Tobin's portrayal is at times frightening. It's all in her eyes and her devilish smile, and the girls and the audience are putty. At times the character lacked motivation, no fault of Tobin's, and the expository monologue of "so, here's why I am so crazy" would have been better shown and not told.
The writing, on the whole, has its plusses and minuses. Smart dialogue aside, the mechanics veer into surrealistic territory when you least expect it; this works at times and not at others. At one point the entire cast breaks character, which could turn into an incredibly neophyte exploration in playwriting, but the actors don't let this happen. It's one of the best moments in the play.
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Director Julia O. Traber should also take a lot of credit for the production's successes. The minimal set, a large pastel-colored riser broken into several geometric shapes, comprised the majority of the design. The girls then refashioned the pieces into several different shapes throughout the play. Even when moving the pieces around in between scenes, Traber had them remain in character, eye rolling and sneering at each other, as you would expect them to do.
The verdict: At the heart of All Girls is the unfortunate and constant struggle between women, regardless of age, and themselves. The play asks if and when women will ever find the courage to be honest, and it's a question that so many of us can relate to.
My initial thought was that this was a play solely for the ladies, but upon further contemplation I don't believe that is true. With its strong acting and directing, coupled with Greenfield's wholly realistic dialogue, All Girls is a piece of theater that we can all relate to and enjoy. Whether you were once a self-centered 13-year old girl or not, the struggle to be your true self is universal.
Stark Naked Theatre Company's All Girls runs through October 26 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For more information visit starknaked.com