Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rose-coloured reviews *36 Little Plays about Hopeless Girls*

36 Little Plays about Hopeless Girls is playing at Bread & Circus as part of Fringe Toronto, which means time is of the essence! There's a showing almost daily until July 12 (see the play-title link for schedules) and then that's it--opportunity window shut.

As you might be able to tell from the above, I am suggesting you see this play. Maybe you don't need me to tell you this; it's one of the buzz plays of the Fringe this year, and I heard later it elicited similar delight when it played two years ago Tranzac. I live in a box and the reason I wanted to see it is that my former classmate is in it and she posted it on her Facebook page and I like hopeless girls (empathy). I hadn't even realized the Eye article I posted last time was a cover story until my partner-in-playgoing pointed it out, and suggested we go the $2 surcharge and get advance tickets (which was a good idea, as the show sold out).

So what's so awesome about *Hopeless Girls*? It's smart, it's sharp, and it's funny. It's got whole-cast dance numbers between the little plays that are beyond charming--someone took the time to arrange pop songs (think Hey Ya as Muzak), and to choreograph 30-seconds of movement that really work for a dozen girls on a tiny stage, and they are executed really well--not only does everyone keep time, they look like they're having a ball.

The characters in the plays are having less fun than their performers. The girls aren't hopeless in big dramatic ways--no one's on a quest for alchemy or perfect love or eternal youth. Instead, they are just trying to get noticed by their mothers, get through a work day without anyone being rude to them, survive the commute home. The plays are indeed little and so is the drama contained within them, but that makes the moments of recognition from the audience so bountiful and delightful. I definitely know about the weird way I don't like myself when I squish a bug, how disgusting "other people's ketchup" is, how sometimes I wish I could just lie down on the sidewalk for a minute and catch my breath. And I've heard that *exact* "You really still eat dairy? It's not natural, you know!" comment several times (something that, in me at least, elicits the ironic silent reaction, "Cow!")

I like the exaggerated modesty of the play--even props that could easily have been provided (magazines, hairbrushes) are made of cardboard. The only set is a table and chairs, and those are also covered with cardboard--leading to a semi-magical space, where everything is realistic but not quite real. This is deepened by the characters' long elegant not-quite-real-in 2009 names--Melisande, Antoinette, Effervescence--and the fact that everyone wears a pretty pastel party dress. The disjunct of a club-scene girl sprawled on her bedroom floor complaining about being cold...while wearing a pink summer frock...is funny and somehow poignant.

This modesty belies how professional the production actually is. *36 Little Plays* is flawlessly rehearsed--everyone hits their marks, gets their props in the right place, and manages their entrances and exits smoothly--important details that are often missed in low-budget theatre. And of course I need to emphasize that the writing is extremely tight, too. Each vignette is smart and well-crafted, but the larger play coheres as well, in some strange and fascinating ways. The subtle interweaving of the characters' narratives brought home the notion that a hopeless girl's greatest ally and greatest weakness in times of trouble is...other hopeless girls. The overpowering sense of community towards the end was really interesting.

There is a small quirk to the play, a strange creature named Nifa whose presence, even when eventually explained, made very little sense to me. She only shows up a few times, gives rise to a few good jokes about panel vans, and doesn't really impact the proceedings at all. In fact, the character added so little that I forgot to even mention her in the post-viewing dinner-discussion. It was only the next morning that I was like, "Oh, the hell?" If you see the play and the Nifa strand works for you, I'd be curious to know why. But even if it doesn't, that's a small small matter in a giant work of little plays.

Five days left!

It's good to lay awake all night

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