Dear Diary LOL is the funniest show I have seen in ages. I was laughing like a hyena, snorting my fruit punch out of my nose and slapping my plus-one with the demented fervor of an overzealous evangelist. It’s all due to the verbatim diary entries of six tween-teens from the late 90s/early 2000s. These women willingly offered up their younger selves’ musings to lead artist, Francesca Montanile Lyons of the Antigravity Performance Project, to create this compelling gem.
Francesca Montanile Lyons mined her own middle school diary and those of her willing friends – Megan Thibodeaux, Alicia Crosby, Nikki Hudgins, Naomi Inoshita and Sarah Knittel to form the verbatim text. You can feel the blushes, shock, yearning, disappointments, joys, infatuations, guilt in every heartfelt entry and it transports you right back to your own 13-year-old awkward emotional seesaw. The collection of stories has been beautifully structured so we get the full experience of the hell of hormones, changing bodies and the complexities of desire.
But this is no Hanna Montana airbrushed teenage fantasy – this “script” cuts to the bone as real heart breaks, honest self evaluation and desperate aspirations are delivered unencumbered by artifice. This is as real as it gets – micro memoir, tween style. The lyrics of the soundtrack form another powerful layer of text underscoring and enhancing these girl’s emotional force field at the time. Embedded in the seemingly self-absorbed teenage stream of consciousness are poignant perspectives on race, sexual objectification and the obsession with the male gaze.
Francesca Montanile Lyons is also the director of this time capsule theater experience along with Michael T. Williams. I found their directorial choices to be inspired, with mountains of comedic blocking brilliance. They chiseled away any excess to go right to the jugular of the societal commentary. Their choreography of the “dance” of a young girl’s life is mesmerizing and you can’t help but project yourself into the familiar settings – the 13th birthday party, the talent contest, the classroom, the slumber party, the first kiss. These emerging artists are pulsating with talent and their directorial vision deserves a standing ovation.
The cast are outstanding. Nikki Hudgins and Francesca Montanile Lyons are the onstage “workers” – they “frame” the show. They have excavated the diaries from beneath the earth and are sharing their spoils by giving life to the forgotten narratives of our youth. They are the quirky orchestrators of the tale, holding the space with extreme focus and joy, bearing silent witness to the tales.
I saw my own turbulent “teenhood” in every one of the tweens confessions. I felt like I knew these girls. They were straight out of my scrapbook. They all gave powerful individual performances – full of over-the-top hysteria, agonizing self doubt and confidently inhabiting the gangling bodies of girls on the precipice of womanhood. You completely believed that these adults were actually pre-teens. Jenna Strusowski was totally hilarious especially when she was spouting her rhyming angst ridden poems. Alicia Crosby was fabulous as the introverted outsider desperate to fit in. She tugged beautifully at your heart strings. Megan Thibodeaux whipped around the stage like a super fan at a Justin Bieber concert – she just couldn’t contain her ecstasy at everything. A mighty performance! I adored Jessica M. Johnson’s earnest portrayal of the girl in love with every boy. She has a strong presence and had the audience wrapped around her little finger. Kelly Conrad was like a cheerleader on too much sugar and caffeine. She was exploding with infectious energy and delivered some of the funniest lines in the production. All of these women stole the show. They were raucous, raw and totally committed to telling these young girls stories with honesty and no judgment.
Michael T. Williams got to play the “boys”. The way the male was characterized and brought to life by the girl’s words and the directors creativity, was simply divine. I laughed like an unblocking drain every time he made an appearance.
Sound designer, Tom Carman, did an exceptional job of inserting us into the soundtrack pumping through the veins of these girls on the verge of exploding. Lighting designer Kate McGee gave us the perfect halogen palette of disco’s, dreams and dates.
This piece makes you want to delve back into your old diaries in the storage unit to spend some time with your lost innocence and naiveté. The audience went ballistic at curtain call –and rightly so, this one’s a keeper.
Dear Diary LOL was guest curated for the 25th Anniversary of the Ice Factory festival by previous alumni – Pig Iron Theatre Company.
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission.
Dear Diary LOL runs July 25 – 28, at The New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street between Washington and Greenwich Street) For more information and tickets visit http://www.NewOhioTheatre.org