Posted by: strugglesome | March 26, 2011

Kitchen Nightmares: Azuka Theatre’s the terrible girls

Every theater ought to be equipped with a bar. And every bar ought to be as much fun at the bar at the Latvian Society, an unassuming edifice at the corner of 7th and Spring Garden that stands in the shadow of the larger and more ornate German Society (there…are no words. The universe is an amazing place). Cheerful bartenders, delightfully low prices and a fantastic liquor selection would totally make this my favorite neighborhood hang out, if, of course, I was Latvian. As it is, I have to wait for events like Azuka Theatre‘s production of the terrible girls, but to be fair, both the bar and the show are worth the wait. And it’s no comment on the show itself to state that everything is more enjoyable with a glass of wine in your hand. But with a play embracing the southern Gothic, murderous diner waitresses and restaurant sanitation,  you just might want to grab yourself something a little stronger, for purely medicinal purposes.

An original new work by local playwright Jaqueline Goldfinger, the terrible girls is a smoothly directed (Allison Heishman) beautifully acted 65 minute tale of love, betrayal and skeletons in the closet (and attic, and basement, and walls…). Birdie (Zura Johnson) is a born again southern baptist with the high hair to prove it. She works at a down trodden hard worn roadside diner with promiscuous problem-prone Gretch (Kristyn Chouiniere) and dourly serene Minnie (Amanda Schoonover). These three ladies spend their long working hours chewing the fat, speaking longingly of their absentee boss, Mr. Witherose, and,when the occasion calls for it, strangling nice sexually adept deaf boys (Nathan Holt) who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time discovering the wrong hidden skull. There are bodies buried all around this play, and despite the inspirational kitten posters and promises to keep each other’s secrets, these ladies can’t help but unearth more untold informationthen they may want to know about each other. While Gretch and Birdie bicker and snipe and each secretly (and not so secretly) pine for Mr. Witherose, who left them to set up another diner in the far away land of exotic Atlanta, Minnie just keeps her head down and tries to maintain her much needed routine. Or does she? Because Minnie has secrets of her own, and her obsession with the ghost haunting their little corner of the world and her violent need to pay tribute to the slaughtered dead sinks deep cracks into the fragile foundations of their makeshift family. I wont give away all the surprises Minnie has up her sleeve, but trust me, they are as foreseeable as they are satisfying. Minnie is the avenging fury of this piece, and while she starts out as an Eeyore, she ends the piece as Athena, or Minerva, her roman namesake, tough as nails and ready to level judgment.

Working with Goldfingers smoothly crafted amusingly dark text, all three actresses do a phenomenal job in this piece, sketching out the undercurrents and painting the brush strokes of a long association and history with deft understatement. Johnson’s Birdie is blissfully bitchy and self righteous as she chastises and cleans up after Chouiniere’s sweetly sloppy and sassy Gretch. The two women have a painfully familiar back and forth, fighting desperately over a man who isn’t even around to suggest a pool of jello. But it’s Schoonover’s Minnie who really owns the piece, beginning as a stone faced slightly slow kitchen drudge and gradually gaining power and presence until the stage is completely saturated with her, and as she nervously calls out the final lines of the play “We’re closed. There’s been…a death in the family”, we can’t help but adore her, even as she horrifies us.

Plays that are staged in non-traditional theater spaces can face a plethora of problems, one’s desire to produce a certain style of work can fight with the natural inclination of the space, giving a play the feeling that it exists in the middle of a tennis match. But Dirk Durossette’s grimy dinette interior with telephone poles shooting up through the ceiling and signs reading “Cold Beer, Steaks and Chops” matches the shabby glory of the building, while Joshua Schulman’s lighting instruments displace the drop ceiling tiles, giving the piece a beautifully disheveled air. Daniel Perelstein’s sound design scores the play neatly with crackly radio and constant sounds of greasy spoon customers coating their arteries with grease, and Alisa Kleckner’s colorful costumes suit the production well, giving the audience a unity of design and location that lets us embrace the trashy and engage in the deep-fried Southern flavor of the piece.

If this piece has an issue, it’s that it leaves us hungry for more. We end the play intrigued by the fascinating people Goldfinger has revealed, asking questions of our brief glimpse of these intriguing women. Given what sounds like quite a wild past, when exactly did Birdie decide that Jesus could solve any problem a dish cloth around the neck couldn’t fix? There has to be more to Gretch then just some deeply pronounced Daddy issues, and good lord, what is the deal with Minnie? Whatever is buried deep in her subconscious I would simply love to read the case study written up by dedicated professionals. Preferably from a long way away. But given that Goldfinger’s next work, Flesh and Bone, is getting a reading from Azuka Theatre in April, maybe we can get those questions answered then. Or at least have ourselves another tasty, tart and terrible meal.

Azuka Theatre’s production of the terrible girls runs until April 3rd. Pick up tickets here.

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