Writer: Antigravity Performance Project
Directors: Francesca Montanile Lyons & Michael T. Williams
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
The New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival continues its guest-curated 25th anniversary season, with its fifth show, the Antigravity Performance Project’s Dear Diary LOL, a curatorial pick from Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company. This play is a devised work that uses verbatim text from the diaries of women who were in middle school in the late 1990s to early 2000s. Francesca Montanile Lyons and Michael T. Williams direct.
Dear Diary LOL doesn’t follow a neat narrative structure; like the tween diaries that serve as its source texts, it addresses a wide variety of concerns that face the young women of middle-class America. In a series of monologues and vignettes, we meet diarists Alexis (Kelly Conrad), Meg (Megan Thibodeaux), Tatiana (Jessica M. Johnson), Ella (Alicia Crosby), and Natasha (Jenna Strusowski) as they navigate their early teens. All of them deal with the trepidation around friends, puberty, clothes, school, and boys, but each young woman has her own specific worries—Alexis struggles to be a good Christian; Meg longs for her period; Tatiana, who is African-American, finds herself alternately fetishized and rejected by the boys at her majority white school; Ella is terribly shy; and Natasha deals with heartbreak by writing overwrought poetry. Michael T. Williams is Brian, the silent object of everyone’s teen lust, while Francesca Montanile Lyons and Nikki Hudgins play parents, teachers, and other adults.
This play does a fine job of depicting the general turmoil of a specific kind of girlhood—middle-class, heterosexual, and mostly white. Though the show opens and closes with a plea for privacy, it serves as a reminder that tween diaries are quite performative; there’s the illusion of talking to another person with language like, “I must admit to you that I do have a slight crush on the following people.” The show also gives a clear sense of the scattered attention span of a young teen. A diary entry might go from 9/11 to Net Pets to Shakespeare quotes in just a few lines. Of course, part of the experience of youth is the time period in which it occurs, and Dear Diary LOL successfully captures the zeitgeist of that time. Tom Carman’s sound design is chock full of the music of the era, which captures the period well but often switches so fast that it feels like there was a challenge to include as many songs as possible. Though the program doesn’t list a costume designer, the show’s sartorial choices are to be commended—costumes capture the awkwardness of tween fashion choices without being cartoonish or mean-spirited.
Dear Diary LOL is, at its core, a letter to past selves. Even if Tamigotchis, AOL Instant Messenger, and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful weren’t part of your coming of age, the awkwardness and confusion of puberty that the show addresses will feel familiar in the most cringeworthy fashion. The end of the show runs a little long; the series of extended diary entries grows repetitive when not broken up with group interaction. Folks who don’t like cringe comedy should skip this, but those who do will enjoy it. Regardless, Dear Diary LOL treats its characters with compassion as well as humor and for that, the Antigravity Performance Project should be applauded.
Runs until 29 July 2018 | Image: Garrett Allen