The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
October 12, 2005
If hunchbacks, imps, and mutant girls were all part of your everyday life, you might think it best not to automatically judge a book by its cover. Such is the message of the Ateh Theater Group’s inaugural production, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a play whose aforementioned outcast characters repeatedly find love (or at least acceptance) after being judged for who they are instead of what they are. Director Bridgette Dunlap has adapted five short stories from Aimee Bender’s book of the same name, fantastical tales in which the boundaries of realism are stretched: a man inexplicably begins de-evolving; a mermaid hides her identity from her high school classmates; and a young girl can burn things with her bare hand. Dunlap crafts a fairy tale universe out of Bender’s work, and for the most part the results are well done and very enjoyable.
In the best of these stories, the everyday commingles freely with the outlandish and the freakish find comfort with their own. Mimi, the mermaid protagonist of “Drunken Mimi,” is wooed by an imp who wears stilts to school in order to hide his diminutive size. In “Legacy,” a pregnant teen finds love in the arms of her step-uncle, a hunchback. “The Healer” chronicles two former friends—mutants known as Fire Girl and Ice Girl, respectively—who warily come together again after one of them embarks on an ill-fated friendship with a masochistic young man. And, in “The Rememberer,” a young woman watches helplessly as her boyfriend slowly transforms into an ape, then a sea turtle, and finally a salamander. Only the title story—in which a young woman tries to connect with her ailing father in his final days—missteps: it feels out of place and too conventional among its whimsical and heightened counterparts.
Taking a story theatre approach to the material, Dunlap keeps the design elements to a minimum: Fire Girl and Ice Girl’s respective powers, for instance, are illustrated only with a small, colored flashing light in each of the actors’ hands and a couple of well-placed light cues. No outrageous makeup, costumes, or masks are used to evoke the strange population of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt—they are conjured, instead, through the magic of acting. The talented cast—Jeff Addiss, Cormac Bluestone, Ryan Canfield, Alexis Grausz, Kathryn Ekblad, Jeff Hughes, Madeleine Maby, Sara Montgomery, and Elizabeth Neptune—handles the heavy lifting expertly. They all work well together, and are clearly having fun. Their enthusiasm generates a soft hum of joyousness that pervades the production and rubs off on the audience.