Existence and the Single Girl, by Pittsburgh playwright Matt Henderson and produced by 12 Peers Theater, opened last week at The Maker Theater in Shadyside. This world premier production doesn’t lack energy or ideas (or pink), but could use some major editing and a ton of focus.
The story centers around Ashley, a 12 year old girl, who instead of having sleepovers with her girlfriends and sending love notes to cute boys like she’s “supposed” to do can’t stop thinking about her place in the world is and spends her days pondering the meaning of life. Her frustrated mother, who can’t deal with a moody and depressed daughter calls in a psychologist, who turns out to be so much more—a TV sitcom director, a music video producer, a drug pusher, a janitor—to try to help her daughter become what she believes to be normal. This begins Ashley’s journey to fame, where she starts as a wholesome tween sensation and becomes a hyper sexualized pop star. If you don’t live under a rock, and the names Lohan, Cyrus or Bynes mean anything to you, you already know this part of the story. Along her journey, Ashley meets another budding young star named Blaine, but they don’t have the relationship you’re expecting.
Director Todd Betker and the cast keep Henderson’s script moving along at a solid pace and get a few good laughs from the audience along the way. Dianna Ifft’s ever changing costumes and personalities as a psychologist/TV director/music producer/janitor add a nice freshness and energy to the show. As Ashley, Alyssa LaVacca (pictured below) does her job as an angst-filled pre-teen and has no problem playing awkward. Valentina Benrexi is the mother and plays up the comedy in the beginning and transitions soundly into a more sympathetic role as she slowly realizes her mistakes. The most human moment of the entire show comes from Ross Kobelak (with help from LaVacca) in a scene toward the end of the show where Ashley and Blaine share something genuine and real.
The set, designed by Betker and Vince Ventura, is… pink. Very, very pink. But it works for the show and is complimented by lighting designer Alex Stevens. And with a mix of pop music and orginial music by IMD2music, the transitions don’t feel too long or drawn out. The production takes place at The Maker Theater, which has its own issues. Pillars create sight-line issues for some of the audience and pipes from above can be very distracting. The performance I attended, there was about a 15 minute period where all I could focus on was the sound of rushing water.
Even though the actors and production team provide some solid work, the problematic script is hard to overcome. It is full of ideas, so many ideas actually, that none of them truly come through. It seems that Henderson has a lot to say about fame, pop culture, feminism and gender in society, but unfortunately it’s hard to decipher any of it. It’s also difficult to care about these characters because they are more cartoons than fully realized people. I do think there is potential here; it just needs a red editing pen and the insertion of some real human emotions.
I will always applaud theater companies who choose to do new works and works that are both interesting and innovative. The danger lies, however, in making sure the work you choose the right scripts to produce. Choosing scripts that are new is a wonderful thing, but is always a risk, so it’s imperative to find the ones that are truly ready for fully realized productions.
Existence and the Single Girl continues through February 21 with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 8PM performances at The Maker Theater. Tickets can be purchased here or at the door. Special thanks to 12 Peers Theater for the complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: February 5, 2015