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Nothing's as serious while it's happening — and as silly afterward — as high school.
Therein lies the charm of Emma Goidel's fun, big-hearted, so-serious-it's-silly new play, Local Girls, receiving a smart world premiere production by Azuka Theatre Company.
Anna Zaida Szapiro, who was so great in Goidel's drama A Knee That Can Bend last fall, plays Diskit, a lonely teenager in tiny Tucker, Georgia. Though she's seen by others as nerdy (she loves chemistry!), we spy her first in her bedroom pretending to be Joan of Arc, fighting a pantomimed melodramatic battle, until her sad-sack single dad (Sam Henderson) enters and she stops, mortified. It's a great scene that establishes the passion she hides, and their hilariously real father-daughter awkwardness.
Meanwhile, the members of Thigh Trap, a metal band exiled from their arts school by black mold, bemoan the loss of their lead screamer. Ridley (Mary Tuomanen), Shanice (Tabitha Allen), and Roe (Jahzeer Terrell) reluctantly hold auditions — another very funny scene — but find no one. How can they win the Zombie Fuel Energy Drink Wreak Ruckus Battle of the Bands, become rock legends, and escape their sleepy town without a vocalist?
Diskit and Ridley are brought together by Ridley's need (though not desire) for chemistry tutoring, and the two misfits become friends.
Though predictable from there, the story unfolds energetically and earnestly in director Allison Heishman's fine production, which captures the raging emotions and solemn ambitions of teenagers with respectful insight. Local Girls doesn't satirize or condescend. I laughed a lot but also winced a few times because, yes, I was a teenager once too, when every day seemed to include two triumphs, three disasters, and a wounded heart.
Metal and heart
The exuberance of metal music runs through the show as well, with Allen and Terrell providing live accompaniment with Robert Kaplowitz's recorded music. Scenic designer Lindsey B. Mayer's unit set of blocks and towers frames two households, the school, the band's instruments, more settings, and provides a dynamic landscape for climbing, leaping, and other energetic bursts. Andrew J. Cowles's lighting makes the play's performance scenes — spectacles both real and fantasy — lively and colorful.
Most winning, though, is the chemistry among the actors. Their unrestrained, committed, genuine performances of Goidel's snark make Local Girls a delightful daffy romp that leaves a lingering happy glow.
Paired with Inis Nua's Spine, the two spaces at the Drake together host a hopeful exploration of teenage spirit.
What, When, Where
Local Girls by Emma Goidel, directed by Allison Heishman, by Azuka Theatre Company. Through March 13 at the Drake, 1512 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA. 215-563-1100, azukatheatre.org.
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