She Like Girls
nytheatre.com review by E. Michael Lockley
December 4, 2009
She Like Girls provides insight into the often hushed experience of a young woman discovering her sexuality in the midst of an urban, homophobic environment. Chisa Hutchinson's play ultimately tells an interesting story, but struggles with setting a consistent tone and seems to stop and start too often to keep the viewer completely engaged.
The play's protagonist is Kia Clark, played with stunning realism by Karen Eilbacher. Kia is a high-schooler who secretly fantasizes about women, and despite the fact that she wears baggy jeans, shirts, and baseball caps, she somehow avoids being targeted as queer. However, one day in the locker room when the head cheerleader, Marisol, suspects that she has breast cancer and asks Kia to feel her breasts for a lump, rumors begin to fly. Kia can't help but begin to have feelings for Marisol, who is rumored to be a lesbian as well, and soon they settle with having a secret love. Amidst the rumors, Kia has nightmares of being found out, her best friend reveals his homophobia, and her mother eggs her on about boys. Additionally, the high school has a teacher, Mr. Keys, whose sexuality is a source of amusement for the kids. After Kia gets into a fight over her assumed sexuality, Mr. Keys befriends her and attempts to guide Kia to environments and thinking that will support her highly looked-down-upon lifestyle. The play utilizes the characters and goes in and out of dream sequences to display the horror and the joy that Kia struggles to understand as she holds on to an identity that her hostile environment does not support.
The play is certainly most engaging when it showcases the romance between Kia and Marisol. Because this is the central story, watching these girls feel free and watching Kia's discovery of her own self, was really what kept me intrigued. Unfortunately, these moments, while sufficient, are fit in with storylines that felt educational or dream sequences that seemed to overstate the obvious fears of the protagonist. Mr. Keys, played with great sincerity by Adam Belvo, has an excellent monologue where he tells his students that despite the fact that his car was vandalized with the word "faggot," he's a successful and forgiving "faggot" who will continue to grade their papers. Mr. Keys's character is absolutely necessary to the story, but the monologue feels a little too theatrical and preachy to fit within the gritty realism that the play operates best in. Similarly there are moments with Kia's mother that feel straight out of a sitcom, and while they bring a bit of lightheartedness to the show, lines like, "If you hadn't already got into a fight I'd kick your ass," are played with comedic timing rather than genuine hostility, and consequently undermine the juxtaposition of the safety of the girls' relationship versus the danger of the world around them. Ultimately the tone set by director Jared Culverhouse for the play seems to switch a little too often, and this inconsistency along with the over-used blackouts for scene changes, had me consistently jumping in and out of the story.
The story that She Like Girls tells is extremely important and it is refreshing to see this work be supported and engaged. In its current form, it would be a great educational tool to discuss sexuality and community with young people. But what I'm most excited about is its potential to be a revealing, uncensored theatrical experience that explores the danger and paranoia surrounding a young inner-city teenage girl due to homophobia, and yet the love that she discovers in spite of it. I can't wait to see that!