nytheatre.com review by Amy E. Witting
August 19, 2010
Two Girls, a one woman show by writer/performer Gabrielle Maisels, and directed by Joey Brenneman, promises to tell the story of friendship between two very different girls, one black and one Jewish, growing up in South Africa. Accompanied by only a red stepstool, a basket of washing, and a broom, Maisels takes the audience on a journey from Mandela's South Africa to Obama's America in a mere hour and twenty minutes. It's a bold endeavor and one that is engaging to watch, as Maisels is a very giving actress, but the focus is constantly shifting and it left me wondering whose story she was telling. Political shows are a very difficult task, and I believe Maisels has the tools within the piece to create a very important political biography, but unfortunately the show falls short. She packs in nine characters, two countries, and over 20 years of history. The story has such potential that I wish Maisels would step back and make it simpler.
Two Girls opens with Maisels singing a traditional Zulu song, bringing the audience into the world of Corinne, a young Jewish girl around the age of eight. We are immediately introduced to the stark contrast between Corinne and Lindiwe, the daughter of Corinne's housekeeper Beauty, also around the age of eight. Corinne is a fiery young girl not understanding why Lindiwe can't have Guava juice or use a regular sized pencil for her school work. A lot of information is presented in the first 20 minutes, and it's hard to follow the different characters at first, but I commend Maisels for her devotion to each character, and the intense energy she commits to them throughout the evening.
Two Girls tackles tough political issues and explores how individuals are directly affected by the state of their country. We watch these girls grow up to be women, and midway through the play, the focus turns toward the elderly housekeeper, Beauty, and her guttural reaction to discovering that Lindiwe has not passed her regents exams. This switch comes quite abruptly, as I wasn't sure that Lindiwe had even taken the exam, but the execution of this breakdown is one of the standout moments of the piece. Beauty, who is the the representation of Apartheid, collapses with the fear that her daughter will not have the bright future she has imagined for her. Maisels navigates this emotional breakdown with care and complete awareness of every emotion in her body, allowing the audience to feel the strife of an entire country. In the middle of Beauty's breakdown, Maisels seamlessly switches back and forth to portray the young Corrine, and Corrine's mother comforting the distraught Beauty. It is Beauty who shines through the piece, and after this moment I felt rushed as Corinne moved to America and the focus shifted to the election of Obama; I found myself missing Beauty in the second half of the show.
It's clear that Maisels has an important story to tell, and is a very talented artist. What is lacking is the concentration of this story. The title suggested we are embarking on a journey of the two young girls as we watch them evolve into two strong women. I would love to hear more about Corrine's mother and Beauty, and how Lindiwe's family aches for her when she makes a difficult decision for the betterment of her family. I hope Maisels continues to develop this piece and its focus because it's a story worth telling.