“I’m going to tell you a secret—and I don’t want you to tell. The secret is about me—about my life—how it will never be the same again.” So says Abby, the protagonist, in Maui Academy of Performing Art’s (MAPA) latest production of Linda Daugherty’s The Secret Lives of Girls.
This snapshot of female teenage angst is playing until Sunday, March 28, at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center’s Steppingstone Playhouse. Under the direction of Sally Sefton, this cast of nine (seven girls and two adults) takes the audience on a ride most parents have been on, are on or will soon be boarding.
The playwright lets us in on all the girls’ secrets such as bullying in the form of gossiping, keeping secrets, using friendship as a weapon, name-calling, exclusion, spreading rumors, backbiting, gathering in cliques and manipulation. These behaviors are the overture to dangerous conditions like depression, self-mutilation, eating disorders and accelerated sexuality. While the female style of bullying is less violent than male, it is none-the-less meant to inflict as much pain as physical attacks and is just as cruel and aggressive.
This behavior is exacerbated and facilitated, by email, instant messaging, cell phones, camera-phones and social networking sites, etc. In the hands of these teenagers, communication devices become lethal weapons and instruments of deceit. Modern technology allows them to spread their lies and distortions at the speed of light to a much wider audience than old-fashion gossip.
This play reinforces the adage put forth by Judge Judith Scheindlin: “You know how to tell when a teenager is lying? When their mouth is moving.”
In the lead role of Abby, Kathryn Adler takes the audience along on her journey as she convincingly, travels from victim to victimizer. We see how easy it is for one who was the butt of the jokes and an outsider to willingly inflict pain on others when she is taken on the inside. The playwright demonstrates how capricious, superficial and cruel female teenagers can be.
Playing Stephanie, the prettiest girl, who is always at the center of the storm, Ashley Hudson demonstrates a deep understanding of her character’s manipulative nature and her undercurrent of insecurity. Her telephone conversations with her mother are very revealing of the turmoil her life is in and the anger she portrays is frightening.
The other five girls, Sutton (Christy Fell), Rebecca (Kirsten Gilchrist), Anna Marie (Ruby Riker) and Kayla (Madison Spurgin), are, at times, enablers of all the drama, and at other times, the targets of the wrath of the in-group.
One of the ways in which the playwright stretches credulity is to have us believe these girls comprise a championship volleyball team. It’s highly unlikely that the kind of drama these queens were playing would make for much successful teamwork on the volleyball court.
Late, in the slightly more than one-hour drama, a new girl arrives on the scene. Chandler (Casey Hearl) is from California and she befriends the ostracized Abby and helps to bring her out of her depression.
Carolyn Wright, as Abby’s mom, understands this character intimately and brings all of her life experience, as well as her estimable acting talents, to give us a finely nuanced performance of a mother desperately trying to hang on while her daughter takes her along like a second person on a one-person luge. The recent winter Olympics bobsled track provides a perfect metaphor for the girls’ down ward slide with all of its treacherous twists and turns.
As the coach and Suttons’ mom, Jeanette Rucci, created two distinct characters without much support from the playwright.
Caro Walker and Ted Hatcher combined to create one of the most interesting settings of any play put in Steppingstone Theater. Through the use of a projector, the emails sent between the characters were made visible to the audience. It was as if they were writing to us. The photos of backdrops allowed the scene locations to change without a pause. The school uniforms, created by Maui’s answer to Edith Head, Kathleen Schulz, evoked the look of a private school and they easily transformed into volleyball uniforms.
Ms. Sefton has taken on an explosive subject and unflinchingly explores all of its darkest aspects. We feel like voyeurs watching an atrocity and there is nothing we can do about it. However, MAPA knows these subjects are difficult and thought provoking, so they have brought in a series of professionals to lead post curtain discussions. These include Dr. Virginia Cantorna, Maribeth Theisen, Mitch Berman and Susan Pirsch, who will offer insights into the real world that the play portrays.
The Secret Lives of Girls continues through Saturday and Sunday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. and March 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for seniors and students. They are available through the MAPA Box Office at 244-8760, ext. 228, and at the customer service kiosk in Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center’s center court. For group tickets call Carolyn Wright at 244-8760, ext. 221, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Paul Janes-Brown at email@example.com.
What secrets are (left to right) Ruby Riker and Madison Spurgin hiding hiding? Find out at MAPA's production of The Secret Lives of Girls at Steppingstone Playhouse.
Photo: David Hessemer.