Wednesday, December 02, 2009

She Like Girls

There's real meat to She Like Girls--as there should be, considering it's based on the life of Sakia Gunn, a fifteen-year-old inner-city girl struggling to come to terms with her own sexual identity. But Chisa Hutchinson, the thirty-year-old playwright, isn't quite grown up enough to handle it. She nails the youthful parts, like the faux-tough and grown-up language of the schoolyard: "You know what I’m doing at six in the morning? Gettin’ some fantabuliscious head from Taye Diggs." And she delicately handles the tentative romance between Kia (Karen Eilbacher) and Marisol (Karen Sours), which starts to boil in a hilariously danced salsa. But too much of the first half of the play is gratuitously goofy (as when a teacher mangles his students' names, or whenever we cut to a dream sequence) and the second half of the play feels rushed, compressed into scenes so explicit that they might as well be title cards.

These moments are sometimes redeemed by the actors--for instance, Adam Belvo has enough edge to him to make Mr. Keys's "I Am a Successful Faggot" speech about more than self-acceptance--but just as often drag down people, like Amelia Fowler, who plays Kia's mother, whose tentative homophobia seem to be a dramatic afterthought, or Paul Notice II, who thankfully makes the most of the one scene in which he's asked to show why he poses as a thug. Even the good moments are sometimes brought down by technical issues, like Eilbacher's quietness and Sours's accent; yes, their characters are shy and Mexican, respectively, but the magic of theater is that those who are unintelligible in the real world can find a voice on stage. (Besides, it's not like the rest of the play is grounded in hyper-realism.)

Still, I only pick at the loose threads of She Like Girls because Hutchinson's writing is interesting; even when it gets silly, it feels alive. (Working Man's Clothes has a good habit of producing shows like this.) Hutchinson may not need to have a scene in which the girls gossip about how disgusting it is to be a lesbian, especially when the girls jump Kia in the next scene, but at least it sounds about right. And though the play hardly needs to support Mr. Keys's advice to Kia with a guest appearance by the lesbian poet Adrienne Rich (Jessica Gist), such effects have the added advantage of making the really "real" moments--a flirty phone conversation between Kia and Marisol--connect on a deeper level. A stronger director might have helped: while it's true that Jared Culverhouse matches the mood of Hutchinson's scenes and nicely uses Kelly Syring's graffiti-covered set, he also kills the momentum with lengthy pauses between scenes and allows for far too many "Mac truck" moments--i.e., pauses in the dialogue that are long enough to drive a Mac truck through.

Some may be able to take the rougher edges of this production as a good fit for the rough setting of an almost-datedly homophobic inner-city, but the truth is, She Like Girls is only, at best, likeable. Here's hoping that Hutchinson gets past her own awkward-as-a-first-kiss moments and finds the deep love that this play, and Sakia Gunn, are asking for.

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