Little Girl Blue
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 20, 2011
In Little Girl Blue, Pheralyn Dove tells the story of Rashida, and her "journey to self-love" (as the postcard puts it). We first meet Rashida as a sad little seven-year-old girl, playing alone with her doll in the stairwell of her Philadelphia apartment building. We discover soon that she is the victim of sexual abuse. Her story then picks up many years later, when she is working as a journalist and takes a trip to Brazil to learn about Afr0-Brazilian culture and religion. Her guide is a native woman named Maria, who takes her on hikes into the hills and introduces her to the native culture in a way that a more conventional tour guide never would. Next, we see Rashida as a wife and mother, coping with a difficult marriage, and then finding her own path toward self-actualization and self-expression by paying a visit to a Philadelphia jazz club. When she signs up for open mic and gets to recite some of her spoken word/poetry, her path toward transformation (the journey that the postcard promises) begins in earnest.
Dove plays a number of characters in addition to Rashida, and most of the sections of the play conclude with spoken word poems that are consistently the most engaging parts of the show. The entire piece features live, invaluable accompaniment by Warren Oree on bass.
I'm not sure where Dove is in the development of this piece, but it feels to me like more work is needed. The scenes feel more like anecdotes than a connected narrative: more like stops along the way rather than a full-fledged journey from one place in life to another. I kept hoping for Rashida to draw conclusions or show us what she'd learned from the various situations she presents to us, but except for broad clliches about empowerment, not much is really provided along these lines.
Dove's performance is hindered greatly by the way she's chosen to transition from character to character. On stage is a long table containing wigs, scarves, a hand mirror, and other props, and next to that is a rack loaded up with costume pieces. After she announces the next character she will become, Dove walks to the rack and/or table and selects the pieces she needs, puts them on (often taking a much longer time than optimal when working with wigs and scarves), and then returns to the front of the stage to pick up her narrative. Without Oree's sensitive music to carry us through these lengthy and numerous interludes, Dove would risk losing her audience completely and repeatedly. I'd urge her to work with a director on these transitions (and on focusing the script overall), or perhaps even just doing the piece without the costume/accessory changes.
Also very distracting at the performance I attended was the presence of not one but two individuals recording the show from the audience (one by video, the other by camera; the latter moved freely around the audience throughout the show, pulling focus from the stage repeatedly). The folks in charge of the show seemed to be unfamiliar with time-honored FringeNYC practices (e.g., a pair of latecomers were admitted fully a half-hour into the piece; the show itself ran about 7 minutes beyond its stated running time; and neither a show program nor the FringeNYC's standard information/audience survey forms were provided). There were, however, two different ways to sign up for the producing company's mailing list.
I suspect that Dove has interesting stories to tell, but the evidence gleaned from Little Girl Blue suggests that she has a way to go before she's really ready to present them to a paying audience.