Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
By Kira Rockwell
Directed by Leila Ghaemi
Critique by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) Any social worker can tell you that the foster system is broken. Wards of the State are just as vulnerable as foster kids, but at the very least they get to socialize with each other in a relatively consistent environment. The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood takes a look at family dynamics within State government enforced boundaries and the impossible odds girls face as they grow into womanhood. It’s a miracle any of us come into adulthood with our sanity intact.
Charlie (Tatiana Chavez), Audi (Stephanie Castillo), Izzy (Amanda Figueroa), and Mercy (Danielle Palmer) are all housemates in a State-run children’s’ residency home in Texas. They’re doing their damnedest to grow into themselves while navigating the system. Hormones are high as they mourn the death of housemate Amber (Sarah Hirsch). Their psyches reach the breaking point when Mercy is reluctantly released to her parents.
Girls face unreasonable odds at every stage of their development. Whether it’s their early sexual objectification, infantilization of the youngest generation, or harmful gender role stereotypes, girls and young women are shuttled into passive virgin/whore identities as soon as they become identifiable as not-boys. It’s either catcalls or spinsterhood. There’s very little in between.
Tragic Ecstasy tackles the many layers of girlhood with both humor and truthful histrionics. Emotions start high and remain high for the 80-minute performance. This rollercoaster of joy and pain is accurate to the girlhood experience; every experience has high-stakes whether it’s a fight for a brow wand or for independence. If it’s exhausting to watch; it’s even more exhausting to live. Puberty is one hell of a trip that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
The performances from Chavez, Castillo, Figueroa, Palmer and Hirsch tugged on every heartstring. Their portrayals of the young women caught between girlhood and adulthood are realistically fraught with angst and unexpected joy. Figueroa’s youthful physical work balanced between yoga and modern dance. In contrast, Castillo’s gyrations were weighted with troubles beyond Audi’s years.
Chavez, Palmer, and Hirsch gave breadth to this already weighty production. They are young women who are shaping themselves despite the world’s adamancy to shape them through hardship. Chavez is stalwart as Charlie; she refuses to give up or in. Palmer gives a brave face but is just as vulnerable as everyone else. Hirsch is a poet in form and word. She feels deeply and thoroughly. The three work together to deliver a brave production that does not shrink away from truthful storytelling. Their characters are young but equally worthy of understanding as adults.
There were many representatives of our theatre community in the audience on the night of Oct. 18. It was so refreshing to see community members seated amongst civilians. Let this be a reminder to all: we must be the audience we wish to have at our production. Expecting friends and family who perform to attend a performance when we ourselves do not attend is hypocrisy. We must take responsibility for our audienceship.
Tragic Ecstasy evokes in me great sympathy for my parents. I’m surprised that didn’t deposit me at a child safe haven in my teens. I can’t imagine how I would have coped without them. Probably not well. With that in mind, I have renewed sympathy for the many, many, many kids who are currently in State-sponsored systems and the overtaxed justice warrior social workers who fight for them. There are children in Massachusetts who need you. They don’t want charter schools; they want the opportunity to be happy. Assisting them can start with understanding their predicaments.
Queen’s Note: When you hit the polls on November 6, please take into account that Charlie Baker vetoed the arts budget in July 2018. It was the fourth time he’d done so. If you consider the arts one of your causes, additionally consider Baker’s cowardly actions when you vote.
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