Eboni Booth and Laurel Holland in Girls In Trouble at The Flea Theatre.
BOTTOM LINE: Not for the faint-hearted. Tread with caution.
Girls in Trouble, written by Jonathan Reynolds and directed by Jim Simpson, is a theatrical enigma. After all, what do you write about a show that deliberately attempts to infuriate?
What the press notes say: Girls In Trouble takes on abortion in the sixties, when backrooms in the wrong part of town offered hope or death, as well as abortion in the twenty first century. In 2010, has abortion become merely another form of birth control?
Before I object, I praise: the actors (for the most part) are marvelous, simply sublime. I applaud them, and I applaud Simpson for his fine directorial work. I call particular attention to Eboni Booth, whose career I will watch closely from now on. She does a 20 minute spoken-word monologue and practically brings the building down. Set, lights, costumes, direction, everything flows seamlessly and beautifully, or as much as is possible within the structural and dramaturgical problems of the show- it is not the execution I take issue with, it is the material.
We begin in the sixties, when abortion was illegal, and follow the attempt of our young, unmarried Hutch and Barb (and Teddy, Hutch's best friend! That's never awkward!) to abort Barb's pregnancy at the home of Sandra (Akyiaa Wilson), an abortionist who learned her practice as a nurse in Korea. We meet her daughter, Cynthia (Eboni Booth, who plays this character at three different ages) and she is the apex at which the rest of the show turns.
Act 1 is the prelude to Act 2, an overlong encounter between Cynthia (Eboni Booth) and Amanda (Laurel Holland- also great), the former attempting to convince the latter not to abort her 25 week old pregnancy. The play takes some strange, violent, and nonsensical twists and turns, and I don't think I go too far when saying this: Act 2 is a theatrical train wreck. I felt like I magically shifted theatres during intermission, and was now stuck in some bizarre, political Sesame Street, forced to witness seemingly endless sing song right and left ideological abortion exposition, and what's worse, it went on for a really, really long time. And then, after I had to sit through all that, that's when the plot began to get really strange.
I'm not averse to politics onstage, and I'm a firm believer of strong and vibrant debate. But I don't come to the theatre to be lectured. Between my job, my family, the news, the blogs, my friends, and my own self-recriminations, I've got all the lecturing and introspection I need. Theatre is not for lecturing, and even if that's not what was intended, that's what it felt like. Stop the show, I wanna get off.
The tag for Girls in Trouble is 'an infuriating new play' - how apt. I theorize that it is necessary to spell out the intention in the marketing because I had no clue what I was supposed to gain/feel by anything so sordid and mundane as watching the show. I can't see any discernable reason for having sunk so much time, effort, and energy into a political vamp that goes nowhere. If the intention was to infuriate, it certainly succeeded, but not for the reason playwright Jonathan Reynolds wanted. I don't care about the abortion argument, I know who I am and what I think is important, and that's that. I care about bad theatre. Bad theatre makes me mad. Bad theatre with this many experienced and talented hands aboard makes me furious.
(Girls In Trouble plays at the Flea Theater, 41 White St., through March 15, 2010. Performances are Mondays and Thursdays through Sundays at 7 pm. No performance Thursday, March 11. Tickets are $20. To purchase tickets call (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or visit www.theflea.org.)