nytheatre.com review by Julia Lee Barclay
August 22, 2011
This play by The Arts Effect All-Girl Company and directed by Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney, who mentored the girls in the process of its development, is a very good ensemble piece created by pre-teen and teenage girls about the insidious nature of Facebook in their lives.
All of the young actors, ranging in age from 13-15, are very strong. Some are stronger than others, but none is weak and as an ensemble they work very well. They seem precisely like who they are: a group of girls going through the drama-trauma of their early teenage years. They are playing girls with different names than themselves, but so convincingly, it seems as if they are playing themselves. The excellent ensemble is Winnifred Bonjean-Alpert, Alexa Caban, Vikki Eugenis, Sophie Hearn, Kendra Jain, Fiona McSweeney-Glynn, Naila Perez-Stringari, Eliza Price, Danielle Stefabia and India Witkin. Even more girls helped create the piece. The directors, who created this company and work with girls all over the tri-state area, are to be commended for facilitating and guiding these girls to create such an honest and sophisticated piece of theater.
We begin with a growing cacophony of girls on phones, whose lines overlap, synch up and sometimes create a babble of confusion. The high-pitched voices, dramatizing of the banal, and hysteria are all quite realistic early teen girl realities, tones and timbres. The sophistication of the text, their ability to act as chorus, both in harmony and in seeming chaos, is very atypical of that age group, and signals that we are in good hands.
The many scenarios that unfold with the Facebook status updates, phones, texts and in person conversations are too many and varied to summarize. You should go and see the play if you can, as it offers a real insight into the pressures these girls are under in the Facebook Age that in some way mirror the usual horrors of junior high and high school—the self-consciousness, fears of rejection, desire to be popular, to have a boyfriend, to be considered attractive, not seem like a loser or to be embarrassed by your parents, but are exacerbated by the fact that all of this now happens in public and online for everyone to see.
The girl I was routing for was the one who was resisting joining Facebook, whose only Facebook update, after she was harassed into joining by her friend, was I HATE FACEBOOK. The complexities of to be or not to be on Facebook are shown by the girl, Penny (McSweeney-Glynn), who has her phone taken away by her father until she accepts her father’s new girlfriend as a friend on Facebook. Penny is crying because she wants to call her mother, but when she goes online to find her, she is not online. Her father puts a comment on Penny’s Facebook wall that he now has a 13-year-old having a temper tantrum in his house and tags her. The only connection she has, after this humiliation (which all of her friends witness when seeing her status update, and wisely attribute to her father being an asshole and elicits one of my favorite lines “Why are parents even on Facebook?”) is online, but she only uses that access to put a photo of her arm with the phrase she has printed on it: "always alone." Her friend who does not want to be on Facebook makes a video for her to cheer her up, but does not understand why she will not answer her phone, as Penny does not post that her father has taken it away, probably to avoid further humiliation.
This is just one of many scenarios, some far more disturbing, especially regarding the girls’ nascent sexuality as it is presented as performance online and judged by boys on sites for "hotness" contests (a la The Social Network and Zuckerberg’s first online social networking experiment judging various Harvard girls by their looks by doing online polls house by house). The girls’ seesawing between attempts at sophisticated sexuality and then hugging their stuffed animals is heartbreaking to see. It is this balance between the two that makes the piece so affecting and seem so real.
I was 13 or 15 once and it struck me as completely believable, neither more nor less dark than that time can be, and while the subject matter is creepy, the fact these girls made this piece gives one cause for great optimism. So, congratulations to the company and to Cappiello and McInerney for making it possible. To hear and see such authentic girls’ voices is a real treat, even if—or should I say especially because—their message is not saccharine or even sugar-coated.
If you want to know what it’s like to be a teenage girl now, go see this play. And, if like me, you’re not on Facebook, keep it that way.