Monday, November 12, 2012 9:05 pm
Review: In Ensler's play, girls just wanna be free
By JENNIFER FARRARAssociated Press
Obie Award-winner Jo Bonney directs the lively, tuneful production, based on Ensler's 2010 bestseller of the same name, that opened Monday night off-Broadway at the Romulus Linney Theatre at Signature Center. Ensler, Tony Award-winning author of "The Vagina Monologues," subtitled this new work, "The secret life of girls around the world." The intensity of topics builds from high-school popularity angst, teen pregnancy and anorexia to kidnaping, sexual enslavement and clitorectomies.
Ashley Bryant, Molly Carden, Emily S. Grosland, Joaquina Kalukango, Sade Namei and Olivia Oguma portray a variety of girls in different countries, confronting important issues through monologues that are sometimes humorous and sometimes harrowing, but always touching. Each enacts several personalities, sharing remarkable stories often enlivened by songs, with spirited dancing in between. Some subjects are treated with the whole group chiming in. Original music and musical direction are provided by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, and the animated choreography is by Luam.
All the actors give fine performances, showing a range of emotions in their characterizations that represent diverse cultures. Kalukango gives a harrowing recitation of "A Teenage Girl's Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery" from the Congo. She also powerfully voices a 13-year-old Tanzanian who runs away to the Mountain of God, pleading for divine intervention to prevent her village from enforcing her clitorectomy. Carden mournfully recounts, "Before He Comes Looking For Me," the dark tale of a 14-year-old girl betrayed by her parents and authorities, and sold into prostitution in Bulgaria.
Not all the stories are so dark, and in some cases, the girls resist dreadful circumstances with escapist fantasy. Oguma is intensely poignant and funny as she relates the revolutionary visions of a young girl who's worked full-time in a Chinese factory since she was a child, making plastic Barbie heads. Perkily waving a Barbie head on one upraised finger, she sarcastically calls herself Prison Barbie, explaining that she communicates with the world by sending her thoughts out through each Barbie's brain.
Bryant is especially compelling, leading the sassy, defiant number "My Short Skirt," and the joyful finale, "Refuser," both of which encourage girls to take possession of their own power, sexuality and happiness. Bright scenic design and costumes by Myung Hee Cho, and an array of projections by Shawn Sagady, colorfully reflect Ensler's message of resistance, empowerment and resilience.