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A CurtainUp Review

By Miriam Colin

Well, you know what they say: a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged.—Cynthia
Yes, and a liberal is a conservative who's had an orgasm. — Amanda
Girls in Trouble
Laurel Holland
(Photo: Joan Marcus )
Plays about politically charged subjects tend to be predictably on the liberal side of the opinion ledger and geared to audiences who represent a like-minded choir. That no doubt accounts for Jonathan Reynolds' difficulties in finding a producer willing to take on Girls in Trouble— a play that insists on giving the pro-life camp a hearing and not just the pro-choice folks who probably predominate New York theater audiences, especially in downtown venues like The Flea. So bravo to Jim Simpson, the Flea's artistic director for being willing to give Reynolds and his characters a fair hearing and lending further support by stepping up to the director's podium.

Unfortunately Reynolds fails to tackle the abortion issue with the same satiric flair he brought to the race issue in his terrific 1997 play Stonewall Jackson's House (review). Two of this play's three segments are are too obviously setups for his not too subtle slam-bang finale.

First up, is a scene that sees two circa 1960s college dudes and the girl pregnant by one of them visting a doctor who performs illegal abortions. The girl is hesitant to have the abortion, but the boy who impregnated her insists. This fast forwards 20 years to a tediously slow rap style monologue by the abortionist's daughter, another "girl in trouble". She goes on and on about why she wants to abort her boyfriend's child.

While the Flea's talented actors, the Bats, perform with their usual panache, these episodes are too heavy-handed to make for a thoughtful rumination on an important subject. In a sledgehammer touch, Reynolds has made the boyfriend in the first segment a budding politician whose future is unsubtly predictable from the way he mishandles the abortion's financial arrangements. The outcome of that abortion is no less unsubtle. Another sledgehammer moment sees the abortionist's 7-year-old daughter kill a newborn kitten. Unsurprisingly, it's that same 7-year-old who remerges in the next segment as the pregnant rapper bent on ending her pregnancy.

From these lengthy inter-connected initial episodes things move to the present day. Since Reynolds used to be a New York Times food writer, and starred most entertainingly as the cook and raconteaur in Dinner with Demons (review), making the pregnant woman now planning to have an aborition the host of a public radio cooking show promises that tedium will now give way to a climax that will showcase Reynolds' satiric talents. Alas, boring and obvious is now over- stylized and again, heavy handed. To round out the the pro-con abortion arguments, an impassioned pro-life activist (yet another version of that cat killing little monster and abortionseeking rapper) shows up pretending to be a doctor and hell bent on saving the unborn baby.

Jonathan Reynolds can be credited for being an equal opportunity ridiculer of extremist pro-life and pro-choice proponents. But he self-destructs his claim to open-mindedness by taking the disputed pregnancy close to the third tri-semester. His play is not without its amusing conversational tidbits (per the quoted dialogue at the top of this revew), and the Bats, especially Eboni Booth, give brave and committed performances. But while the playwright is to be admired for his strong beliefs, from a dramaturgical standpoint, this play is in as much trouble as the girls of its title.

Girls in Trouble by Jonathan Reynolds
Directed by Jim Simpson
At The Flea Theater, 41 White Street, Manhattan Cast: Andy Gershenzon (Hutch), Brett Aresco (Teddy), Betsy Lippitt (Barb/Kit), Akyiaa Wilson (Sandra), Eboni Booth (Cindy/Sunny/Cynthia), Laurel Holland (Amanda), Marshall York (Robert)
Set: John McDermott
Lighting : Zack Tinkelman
Costumes: Amanda Bujak
Sound:Jeremy Wilson
Running time: two hours plus intermission
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street Ticket price: $25 From 2/12/10; opening 2/28/10; closing 4/11/10 (after 2 extensions) Reviewed by Miriam Colin 2/28/10
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