This smartly observed play about inner-city kids focuses on the sexual awakening of one in particular. Unlike some "ghetto kid" dramatizations, it avoids the sin of trying too hard. In language that's spicy and realistic, playwright Chisa Hutchinson crafts believable characters who are vividly realized by an excellent cast of mostly newbies. The one thing Ms. Hutchinson can't seem to do is think of an ending. But until that disconcerting, disappointing five seconds, the neatly plotted She Like Girls is an entertaining and affecting journey through the troubled life and psyche of Kia (Karen Eilbacher).
Karen Eilbacher as "Kia" and Karen Sours as "Marisol" in the Working Man's Clothes production of She Like Girls. Photo credit: Julie Rossman
A sullen, sensitive teen, Kia befriends an ebullient, outgoing cheerleader, Marisol (Karen Sours), who has discovered a lump in her breast. The relationship develops through a series of concise, well-played scenes. With the help of a kindly teacher (Adam Belvo) and no help at all from her macho old friend Andre (Paul Notice II), Kia finds some ground to stand on. Though plagued by nightmares – including one brilliant scene in which Marisol brings her in for a show-and-tell session that turns into a gay-bashing horror show – Kia discovers first ideals (it shouldn't matter what you're called, just who you are) and then the insane cruelty of the real world when Marisol is beaten and and thrown out of her house by her homophobic mother.
Wisely, Ms. Hutchinson keeps things earthy, leaving the poetic language to the poet Adrienne Rich, who is quoted and invoked as a lesbian icon and guiding spirit – and who actually materializes, because why not?
This isn't a "gay play." It's more or less a traditional (and often quite funny) story about growing up, finding first love, and experiencing the pain and despair of young adulthood. That there's no ultimate redemption isn't what's wrong with the ending; redemption is only one possible conclusion for the human condition. What's wrong is that the play just stops abruptly, with a violent act that feels neither shocking nor truly sad, just baffling, which snaps off the till-now well-crafted story arc.
Ms. Eilbacher and Ms. Sours give fine, heartbreaking performances, backed by a strong supporting cast. Lavita Shaurice is brilliant as Alia, an alienated straight friend with awesome comic timing. Amelia Fowler scores as Kia's sarcastic but generous mother, bathed in her own complexities, and Mr. Notice is sympathetic and solid in the tough role of Andre. With no weak links in the cast, efficient direction by Jared Culverhouse, an effectively garish graffiti-drenched set (by Kelly Syring and a cast of artists), well-chosen music and sound (Ryan Dorin), and a bit of energetic choreography (Sabrina Jacob), there is, as I said, only one thing missing:
She Like Girls plays through Dec. 30 at the Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster St., New York. Tickets at Theatermania.