Monday, October 21, 2019

Review of "Girls"

Girls, receiving its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre, is a very problematic production.  The play is based on the Greek work, The Bacchae, by Euripides.  It has been adapted and reconceptualized by playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.  As someone unfamiliar with this ancient piece of theater, I was gratified to for the extensive rehearsal notes and other helpful material in the program.  However, should a show need to rely on documentation to be understood?  Without the essays, I would have been mostly baffled by the overlong production.   

The focus of the work takes place in a wooded area, artfully rendered by Scenic Designer, Adam Rigg, where the woman of the land are carousing at a large dance festival organized by Deon (Nicholas L. Ashe), a lithe young man, who has come back to the land to avenge his mother’s death.

Another central character is Theo (Will Seefried), a gun toting, somewhat fanatical individual broadcasting a live feed over the Internet to his followers and is troubled by the hyperactivity he sees in the wooded area.  Deon seeks to punish Theo’s family for their involvement with his mother’s demise.  From here, the plot becomes a bit convoluted if you are not familiar with The Bacchae.  Suffice it to say it includes revenge, mistaken identities, and female empowerment.

While audience members can appreciate what the playwright has brought forth, the play becomes wearisome.  The merriment by the bacchants, which forms the foundation of the production, is unnecessarily drawn-out.  As with the shindig scenes from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, the dancing periodically stops, a spotlight beams on a performer, who delivers a pithy bit of irrelevant dialogue, before the shimmying continues.  Unlike the landmark television show, the utterances lack humor or direction.

The choreography by Raja Feather Kelly reminded me of the 1960’s TV dance program Hullabaloo with a lot of self-expressive movement and frenzied gyrations.

There are three actors that make an impact on the play.  Nicholas L. Ashe, as Deon, brings an impish demeanor to his role.  His playfulness, however, masks a cool, cunning character seeking retribution over the loss of his mother.  Will Seefried is bombastic and somewhat over-the-top in his performance at Theo, but his portrayal fits in perfectly with this classic’s retelling.  Jeanine Serralles as Gaga, mother of Theo, adroitly shifts from a flustered and bewildered parent to a demented matriarch bent on killing.

Lileana Blain-Cruz’s direction can appear helter skelter and uneven, but there is a method to his process even if the results are patchy and produce a work that could easily have been shaved by 10-15 minutes.  He does skillfully blend in David Bengali’s larger-than-life projection system that ominously hovers over the forest dance party.  The director also deftly incorporates Yi Zhao’s Lighting Design and Palmer Hefferan’s Sound Design to help create a foreboding, atmospheric presence.

Girls, playing at the Yale Repertory Theatre through October 26th.  Information and tickets are at

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