Community Review of Girls Like That at Santa Fe University of Art and Design
Opening night at the Greer Garson Theatre was again lavish and handsome, and I highly recommend SFUAD’s many offerings to my neighbors. The theatre should have sold-out houses instead of half empty ones. The ticket price is a token, yet stage magic is reliably made. The company is capable of brilliance, too, as last season’s Polaroid Stories proved.
Put differently, we have a gem in our midst that won’t be there forever. And anyone who feels that top-drawer stagecraft needs a professional cast and an expensive seat is certainly wrong.
Girls Like That, Evan Placey’s award-winning modern take on all-girls schools, is well played and smartly choreographed. Critics called it “melodrama,” but it’s written rather like comedy and would be better understood that way.
For the girls at St Helen’s, mob mentality makes Scarlett (probably punning on Hawthorne) an isolated outcast. This contrasts meaningfully with SFUAD’s The Heathers where popular tyrants rule over lesser outsiders (until they don’t). What resolves in the former is guilty feelings; in the latter, violent murder.
Either way, the meanness of girls is the centerpiece, something that ironically accompanies girl-power, rather than diminishing through it. But don’t shy away fearing this play is scary or sad: it’s too funny to be scary, and too clever to penetrate deep feelings. Here lies a complaint: the humor is not broad enough, nor yet nuanced enough, for maximum effect. Either more subtlety or more slapstick would bring viewers unsettling, conflicting feelings, and through them an opening to irony and poignancy that is missing.
What works well are the two kinds of flashbacks that are intertwined: one is the study of group dynamics and the other a timeline of civil rights progress. The former driven by “what Mommy said,” the latter by an inference that feminism is heritable. The satire is shrewd: To misquote Reverend King, “The arc of history is long, but it tilts towards firing Ailes and dumping Trump.” Paraphrasing Placey, “Boys are still jerks, but girls are now the jerks boys used to be.” And, even funnier, many girls have become “indigestible.”
In a Santa Fe coincidence, one of the girls boasts of playing Anita from West Side Story in the school play. In this very week, Rita Moreno powerfully explained at the Lensic just what the character decried: People of color are interchangeable in our stereotyping and largely xenophobic society. It’s a sub-theme Placey can’t resist, along with many other topical side-jokes.
In closing, I disagree with those describing Girls Like That as “...urgent...explosive...brave... dazzling...” and with the Director, who quotes Blanche Duboise about deliberate cruelty. This play self-consciously skirts the proposition that meanness is individual or intentional, repeating "Someone did this, but it wasn’t me!” (or, even funnier, “Possibly not me”).
But I agree that the play is not mostly about girl-shaming (albeit timely), but more about flourishing despite it. As a school teacher in Pojoaque, I expected it would be about cyber-bullying, but being disappointed was a relief. Remember, too, it’s too hip and witty to break your heart. So, go fearlessly and enjoy yourself.
Hopefully this play will hook you: keep abreast of what our local University offers, for however long she’s there to appreciate.