BWW Reviews: THE HELLO GIRLS at Capital Fringe Excels at Storytelling
There's nothing more frustrating than learning about societal injustice after the fact. Capital Fringe Festival's The Hello Girls: Unknown Heroines of WWI tells the story of 233 women who answered their country's call to service only to have that service questioned because of their gender after the war. While the show may lack the theatrical flair of the Festival's other offerings, the story itself is too important to pass up. The legacy of these women deserves to be heard.
Following the United States entrance into the First World War, the Army Signal Corps recruited, trained and deployed French-speaking female American telephone operators to France. The women were nicknamed "the Hello Girls" by soldiers who communicated with them from the front lines. When the women returned home after the war they were shocked to learn that the Army did not consider them veterans, denying them benefits because of their gender. They'd have to wait sixty years until the Army, through an act of Congress, would consider them veterans.
The Hello Girls was conceived and is performed by Ellouise Schoettler. She's a master storyteller and the history of "the Hello Girls" is one that keeps your interested throughout the show's sixty minute runtime. This is accomplished by using descriptive prose and telling the story from the perspective of three different women who served in the Signal Corps as operators. Although there is some overlap in the stories, each account provides a different and detailed perspective of their wartime experience and long fight to be recognized as veterans after returning stateside. It is this fight for equality which makes The Hello Girls so endearing.
The weakness in The Hello Girls centers around Schoettler's portrayal of each woman. She tells the story sitting on a stool center-stage and the only indication of a character change involves her switching glasses. Everything else, including her vocal delivery, mannerisms and position on the stool remains the same for all three characters. The result has Schoettler appear like she's recanting a story rather than embodying the women whose story she's telling. This is an important detail because The Hello Girls is told from the perspective of these women and we're supposed to be having an audience with them.
Nevertheless, even with this flaw, The Hello Girls is an important work because it tells a story too often overlooked in the history books - that of the vital role women played in the Allied victory of World War I. With this summer marking the one-hundredth anniversary of the War's start, the piece is a timely offering at the Capital Fringe Festival.
Runtime: Sixty minutes with no intermission
"The Hello Girls" is being presented as part of the Capital Fringe Festival at Caos on F Street - 923 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 - and is scheduled to give it's final performance on Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm. For tickets please visit Capital Fringe Festival's website by click here.
Fringe Graphic: Courtesy of Capital Fringe website.