Girls in Trouble
nytheatre.com review by Joshua Conkel
March 21, 2010
I knew what I was getting into before I even sat down. The program for Girls in Trouble by Jonathan Reynolds, which has just been extended at The Flea, reads, "An infuriating new play featuring The Bats," and they sure aren't kidding. This is an extremely challenging play revolving around three "girls in trouble" or, more accurately, three women on the brink of having abortions.
The action of the play takes place over three different eras. We begin with a drunken college girl in the 1960s on her way to obtaining an illegal abortion. The abortionist has a seven-year old daughter, Cindy, who we see grown up and on the way to having her own abortion in the 1980s. Amanda, a celebrity chef on the Upper West Side, takes us into the present day when she unwittingly lets a still older Cindy into her home, having been led to believe she was a doctor. Cindy (now Cynthia) has actually come to persuade the well-to-do vegan chef not to have an abortion.
No matter how you feel about abortion, Reynolds's play is certain to get under your skin. I find it necessary to divorce my own feelings about this issue in order to write this review, so I will as much as I can. First thing's first. This is a very good production of a problematic script.
John McDermott's set goes from spartan in the first act to realistic in the second quite nicely. I was also most impressed by Zack Tinkelman's lighting design, which very effectively takes us from location to location with seemingly very little effort. The cast, as can be expected of The Bats, is uniformly good. Eboni Booth (Cindy/Cynthia) and Laurel Holland (Amanda) deserve special shout-outs for their extremely brave performances and Jim Simpson's direction is smart as a whip.
I appreciate the script's boldness, and it's refreshing to be challenged in a theatre that becomes increasingly more listless and irrelevant, but I would also be remiss if I didn't point out a few problems I had with it. The 1980s portion of the play that ends the first act is told entirely through a sort of spoken word slam monologue given by Cindy (Booth), which seemed unnecessary. I couldn't help feeling that we could have gone from the 1960s in Act One to the present day in Act Two more efficiently without it. The text is dense and, at ten minutes long, I found myself zoning out. If an actress of Booth's incredible talent can't sell this monologue, I have a hard time believing any actor could.
The acts are so different in style and format that they could almost be two separate one-acts, which I like in theory. The trouble is the constant narration that the two women give us in Act Two removes the tension we might feel in a loaded situation. In short, a character's action doesn't surprise me if the character has just told me what she's thinking or, worse, what she's about to do.
Lastly, as much as I'm trying to divorce my politics from this review, I get the idea that Reynolds is trying to offend both sides of this debate. If this is so, he doesn't do a very good job. He seems to take a lot more enjoyment out of poking fun at liberal elites than he does pro-lifers. I got the feeling he was passing judgment on his character Amanda, the vegan chef in the second act. She seems remarkably selfish in comparison to pro-life Cynthia, but luckily Holland's performance is so dynamic it brings a depth that the character might not have otherwise.
All this said, Girls in Trouble is still worth a trip to Tribeca. The production is wonderful, even if the play is slightly problematic. Even with its problems, the play does us a favor by challenging our politics, whatever they may be, and its boldness is pretty thrilling.