Taking on new challenges and new works is what Strand Theater Company is all about. And What A Girl Wants is definitely a challenging new work. Playwright and Director Deletta Gillespie brings a new production to the stage; a quasi every-woman tale defining what women want out of life, more specifically in their relationships. The show has promising potential, but at this stage is more like a workshop of the work rather than an actual production.
Playwright Deletta Gillespie starts by framing the idea of six friends who end up discussing everything that is important in a woman’s life and love life around the notion that they are all getting together for a Charity Cancer Fundraiser. This is mentioned and then never really referred back to or even touched on after the initial onset. This surrounded by the fact that it takes place in a fashion boutique, which semi-ties in with the fundraiser event, distracts from what is actually happening.
To add further plot complications — instead of just talking about what it is women want, Gillespie attempts to frame the subject matter by having one of the characters make a ‘fantasy syllabus’ for a women’s studies course she could teach at her university. These framework devices hinder the plot rather than advance it along, and a more simplistic approach to the core elements would have enabled the audience to more readily connect with the values of the show.
Aside from the convoluted approach to the important message of the show, the dialogue felt underdeveloped and unnatural. Gillespie has a great deal of important topics that are discussed in the work, such as abusive relationships, grieving the loss of a loved one, supporting friends through difficult times, and of course sex, but the topics get lost in the sea of jarring stops and starts in the conversations. Several points throughout the play the conversation would peter out to a natural end, only to experience a long awkward pause on stage and then someone, most often Rica or Patience, would suddenly interject with “now let’s talk about this.” This made the conversation feel stilted, as if they were being forced to talk about these things rather than the natural flow of six friends just chatting.
There were artistic decisions made by Gillespie that further hindered the production. Trying to incorporate music into the script was both a good and a bad idea. There were moments where this truly worked to the show’s advantage, like when the girls started singing the original tune “Charity Cancer Fundraiser”: “the more you miss the meaner you get,” and when they all started belting out “Respect” as one of the important topics of discussion. But there more crippling times when the infusion of tunes did not work, like when music was changed between makeshift scene changes — that neither changed the scene or even passed time. The music would play, the actors would start moving about as if they were getting ready to move into a scene change, completing some task-oriented action stage — like when they all passed the shoes from the box to the rack— and then the music would stop and they would pick up in the conversation where they left off. This was not only confusing but distracting from what was really going on in the text.
Despite all of the script and directorial issues, Gillespie did find a few talented women to address the more lively characters of her work. Playing Rica (Lisa F. Scott) the gossip girl with an attitude, and Patience (Erica Poe) these two women brought a sense of salvation to the show. Scott was completely in her own little world; a zone of slightly self centered with an attitude loaded with moxie and class. Her performance did the sexual proclivity of her character a great deal of justice and she provided moments of great laughing joy to the audience.
Poe was similar in her performance, though with far less attitude, as was suited to the character, more subdued and motherly, more concerned and religious. Her voice, when singing at various points throughout the performance, was a powerhouse to be reckoned with, especially when belting the lead in “Respect.” Poe rivals Scott in her portrayal of this strong woman, made so by her own choices in life. Together the pair brought renewed hope to the project, and with time and reworking of the script, the show could potentially be a stronghold for women everywhere.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes with an intermission.