The explosion of pink in Dear Diary LOL leaves no doubt that AntiGravity Theatre Project’s hilarious and touching new show explores the extremes of tween girls. The text is culled verbatim from the real-life diaries of five girls, ages 12 to 15, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This dance-pantomime-recitation was directed by Francesca Montanile Lyons.
The women playing the emotionally overwrought, socially awkward, and sexually curious almost-teens (“I just want love, and a guy, and sex stuff!” one gushes in her composition book) don’t speak their own diaries. However, they commit with gusto to playing these dancing, preening, weeping manifestations of pink energy. The 20-something cast of Alicia Crosby (also the set artist, sparing no pink), Sarah Knittel, Jenna Strusowski, and Megan Thibodeaux (pulling double duty as lighting designer, creating colorful magic with few resources) play friends who gossip, flirt, and panic together. Whether in classrooms passing notes, at dances hoping to “hook up,” or at manic slumber parties, their emotional turmoil doesn’t even stop when they sleep.
The music of their childhoods
They say we all remain attached to the music of our youth. Much of this rich hour-long show moves with period tunes, whether weeping for lost love to “You Are Beautiful” or lip-syncing “Hit Me, Baby, One More Time” in a talent show. The diaries and their amazing physical manifestations of tween-ness — a combination of wild gangly energy tinted with moments of extreme self-conscious doubt — speak for themselves. They act every exclamation point in their sparkly personalized diaries, and there must be thousands.
The girls’ love lives swirl around Brian, played by Michael T. Williams as a dim-witted lump. His shit-eating grin shows him to be oblivious of the ecstasy and torment he stirs while doggedly pursuing a feel. The girls write bad poetry about him (“Love has brought me down/Love has made me frown”) and conjure fantasies of married bliss; when he inevitably moves on to another, they curse their loveless lives.
More than mockery
AntiGravity achieves more than nostalgic fun-poking, exploring a uniquely turbulent time of life with brutal honesty. The production supporting the cast’s vividly honest performances is smart and fun. Lyons and Gina Elizabeth Murdock play movers in pink jumpsuits, pink hard hats, pink sunglasses, and pink mustaches — their fingernails and toenails also, yes, pink. They move furniture, hold up a picture frame (pink, of course) that each girl uses as a mirror, and at one point slide a bed into place, perfectly timed for a teen to hurl herself on in despair. They also play nonspeaking roles and wryly comment through their cocky stances, as if they’re far too mature for this foolery — meaning at least 16.
“I’m writing this so I can laugh at myself when I’m old,” one diarist confesses in Dear Diary LOL. Lucky for us, we’re allowed to join in — to laugh with them, not at them. Anyone who says they didn’t suffer the cruel anxieties of adolescence thinking that school was the universe’s heartless center is either lying . . . or very lucky.
What, When, Where
Dear Diary LOL. Devised by ensemble, Francesca Montanile Lyons directed. AntiGravity Theatre Project. Through September 23, 2017, at the MAAS Building, 1325 North Randolph Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.