‘That Kind of Girl’ and ‘Gretel’ at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center by Ramona Harper

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That Kind of Girl

That Kind of Girl delves deeply below the emotional surface in an innovative stream of creative consciousness that examines gender equality as it flows vignette to vignette in an eclectic collage of personal stories filled with pathos, pride, wit and wisdom. “Vulnerable, visceral and vaginal” self-define That Kind of Girl as it brilliantly explores the contemporary female experience in Second Season’s inaugural performance of the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. Explicit sexual banter and in-your-face sexiness are a flirty tease as the ensemble of five young women greet the audience clad only in bra and panty following Rebecca Ballinger (Becca) defiantly proud opening line, “I love sex.” Was That Kind of Girl going to be a reprise of Sex and the City reruns or a second take on Blurred Lines?

Both Carrie and Robin thematically figure into this performance workshop but in a socially redemptive way as the play questions modern-day feminism, gender identity. and the shadows and light of being a woman in today’s society. Free associating about body image, sex lives, notions about female purity and what constitutes rape, the ensemble of That Kind of Girl uses theatrical space to examine patriarchal attitudes and its effects on female self-identity and women’s personal freedom. The characters use their real names in this performance, telling their own stories and personally involving the audience in their search to make peace with being a woman. Appropriate female behaviors and societal roles are up for grabs as That Kind of Girl provokes the audience to form its own opinions and to create its own meaning and perspectives on feminism and a woman’s right to be herself devoid of labels and societal expectations of physical perfection.

R to L: Anna Lynch, Natalie Piegari, Emma Lou Hebert, Korinn Walfall, and Rebecca Ballinger. Photo by Lydia Francis.
R to L: Anna Lynch, Natalie Piegari, Emma Lou Hebert, Korinn Walfall, and Rebecca Ballinger. Photo by Lydia Francis.

Each actor brings her own kind of realism to her character. Anna Lynch (Anna) is a quirky delight as she profoundly proclims that she is a biological bombshell. Korinn Walfall (Korinn) is proud of her Jamaican heritage yet vulnerable as she struggles against being an “Oreo” and selling out – the black girl’s dilemma for straddling black and white societies. “Two pills a day” – one black and one white – are Korinn’s prescription for figuring out how to be herself at home, at school and on the stage. Emma Lou Hebert (Emma) co-creator and part of the ensemble, co-directed in tandem with Rebecca Ballinger and Joyce Knazik. Emma’s witty characterization is tough yet tender, self-assured but sensitive. Natalie Piergari (Natalie) ponders whether a girl could call her own self beautiful and not be considered vain. She poignantly describes the insecurity of trying to maintain an acceptable body-image by dieting and secretive bulimic episodes as she sits in a pseudo psycho ward talking trash about why she tried to kill herself.

The ensemble works seamlessly well together. The acting is natural and intelligent without being too cerebral; and the movement between scenes flows with a balanced energy that keeps the audience waiting to see just what saucy surprise will happen next. They emotionally explore every stereotypical female attitude and attribute: slut/ho, crying little girl, lady warrior, stupid, angry, too emotional woman, people-pleaser, sexual victim, trying to-act- like-a-man dominatrix, cat fighter, to multiple orgasmic pleasure- seeker having a love-hate relationship with her own body. That Kind of Girl is a collaborative, ensemble-based project with a script that developed from weeks of conversations in living rooms and basements about the pain of being subjected to patriarchal attitudes women today continue to contend with in American society. It pokes and prods, titillates and touches the audience in a provocative series of intimate moments that question what it means to be fully human while being fully female.

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Gretel
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Accompanying Second Season’s Ladies Rep: A Shared Evening of Original Student Work is the astoundingly creative presentation of Gretel.  Performed by a troupe of nine masked female performers, Gretel, co-directed by Olivia Brann and Anjna Swaminathan, interprets the Hansel and Gretel German fairy tale, performed in movement only, to Igor Stravinsky’s  hauntingly morose The Rite of Spring.

Photo courtesy of Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
Photo courtesy of Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

Gretel is a very different kind of theatrical experience that’s difficult to categorize. It combines the feeling tone and textural richness of Kabuki theater, Chinese opera, South Indian classical dance, Russian Folklore, ballet, and modern. Huge puppet forms  inhabited by humans enliven the witch character of fairy tale lore. Mixed media video projections of a darkened Black Forest, humanlike scissor-hands and other fairy tale scariness are images and sensations that lay bare the themes of greed and sacrifice and the dualism of good and evil existing in all of us. Gretel is sensed more than perceived. Gradations of black, white and gray colors, bird-beaked, leotarded costumes by Olivia Brann, the texture of black tulle, and a stark black paneled set overcast with somber lights by Sean Patrick Forsythe, and sullen personas as Kasi Aysola creates an ethereal silence. At times Gretel feels too heavy, too long-suffering, and way too long. But the creativity of this work is amazing. It is the imagination running wild.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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That Kind of Girl and Gretel performs today -Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 3 PM at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center – 3800 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193 (University Boulevard), at University of Maryland in College Park, MD. Tickets are FREE. For tickets to upcoming events, please check the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s calendar.