BWW Reviews: Stark Naked Theatre's ALL GIRLS is a Moving Production that Resonates with Humor and Heartbreak
ALL GIRLS, written by Anna Greenfield, is a moving play that is rich in layers of humor, heartbreak, and self-discovery. As the piece opens, we are introduced to three 13-year-old girls on the verge of entering high school: Morgan is the alpha girl who prioritizes popularity; Jenny is the rebellious and promiscuous teen; and Claude is the awkward and naïve misfit who just wants to be included, play pretend, and to have fun with her friends. These three characters have been masterfully crafted to be both realistic and relatable, and are reminiscent of all of the joys and pains of girlhood. During the production, we also meet Mrs. Gray, Morgan's manipulative mother who plays an integral role in the girls' friendship and serves as a representation of how our past relationships shape our future selves. Anna Greenfield deftly portrays the dominance hierarchy that is prevalent in even the tightest circle of girlfriends, where relational aggression such as teasing and playing off of one's self-doubt is key. Consequently, in the midst of all of the insecurity and uncertainty, she adequately balances all of the frivolity, curiosity, joy, and lingering blissful innocence that is associated with the transition into the teen years.
Possibly one of the most affective moments of the Anna Greenfield's work is the surreal moment when all girls step out of the narrative framework and, conversing as actresses in a play, choose to reveal their first impressions of each other. Here we see the behavior repeat itself to a degree, as characters provide each other with false compliments instead of truth. When pushed for honesty, the girls lash out at each other and the nasty truth comes out. It is made apparent that the paradox of female relationships, the loyalty and betrayal, and our subsequent yearning for belongingness exists inside and outside of the context of any narrative. Quite simply, it exists. ALL GIRLS not only sheds light on this fact and illuminates the frustrations associated with this "Girl Fire," but provides the viewer with a beautiful release.
Julia O. Traber's direction of ALL GIRLS effectively captures the intimacy and fragility of female friendships. The comedic timing is perfectly balanced with moments of tension and self-discovery. She produces believable and multidimensional characters allowing the space to be filled with raw emotions. As a viewer, we are hard pressed not find at least some element of this production that doesn't ring a bell of nostalgia.
The hunger for social acceptance is prevalent throughout this production, and the cast as a whole successfully brings forth the reality that these beautiful and somewhat traumatic relationships are part of our rite of passage into adulthood to some degree and shapes the person that we become. Each actress effectively makes us love these girls for everything that they are and appreciate everything that they are going through.
Susannah Morgan Eig delivers a strong performance as Morgan, the girl who seemingly has it all figured out. She is believably manipulative in her role as the popular princess, but truly shines in the moments that she expresses all of the uncertainty and angst that is buried deep within her character. She approaches the character with a depth and range that forces the audience to fear her, love her, and to some extent sympathize with her.
Playing Jenny, Amy Michele Mire has all of the attitude that we expect to see in a teenage girl. She gives an emotionally charged and authentic performance as a teen who values her self-worth based on the opinion of others. She is so convincing in her role as the girl who is struggling to maintain a relationship with her best friend that it is at times painful to watch.
Victoria Villarreal fully commits to the role of Claude. Her sometimes awkward and carefree behavior resonates with innocence and youthfulness, and she draws laughs from the audience while tugging on our heart strings. While she wins us over with her naïve pretend play and makes us laugh while she is alone in her bedroom, Victoria Villareal crafts a very real and complex character who wants to belong.
Kim Tobin's portrayal of Mrs. Gray is particularly impactful. While she encompasses the role of Morgan's manipulative and over-indulging mother, her performance is multifaceted. On the one hand she provides the viewer with the perfect parallel of her young daughter as she is a grown and seemingly self-assured successful alpha-female. On the other hand, she subtly renders signs of insecurity and vulnerability as she too seeks approval from her daughter. She skillfully crafts Mrs. Gray into someone that we do not necessarily root for because it seems like she is simply the stereotypical Queen Bee grown up. Then we realize the true depth of her character, and that she is the embodiment of all of the consequences that adolescence has on our future selves. In a monologue that rings of truth and is delivered with touching sincerity, one of her most poignant moments is the reflection on her own girlhood.
The design elements of this production wonderfully reflect the tone of the piece. Set design by Jodi Bobrovsky is simplistic and versatile. With large wooden blocks painted in a subtly gendered light blues and pinks, pieces are able to shift to fit the needs of each scene. Her set design creates an intimate setting while allowing for all attention to remain on the cast. Light design by Alex Jainchill is as layered as the piece itself and successfully draws out the emotions of the production.
Jodi Bobrovsky's prop design is wonderfully 90's, the time period in which the play takes place. From the girl's boom box stereo to the handheld tape recorder used by Mrs. Gray, it is clear that attention has been given to even the smallest detail. Likewise, costume design by Macy Lyne is evocative of the 90's. From Claude's childlike overalls to Morgan's preppy polo shirts, each garment is creatively consistent with each character's archetype. One of my favorite design elements of the show is Yezminne Zepeda's sound design and use popular 90's music. Her sound design also shifts with the tone of the production making effective use of the intimate space's acoustics.
ALL GIRLS is a powerful piece of theatre that is well worth seeing. The ninety minute production flies by in a swirl of laughter, fun, and poignancy. The story is relevant on several levels to females and males alike. However, this piece strikes a tender cord of nostalgia with any female that has survived the "Girl Fire" of her adolescence.
ALL GIRLS, produced by Stark Naked Theatre Company, is currently running at Studio 101 in Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street, Houston, 77007 through October 26, 2013. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 3:00 p.m., and Monday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.starknakedtheatre.com.
Photos by Gabriella Nissen. Photos courtesy of Stark Naked Theatre Company.