Paper Lantern Theatre’s production of “Girls Like That” takes a fresh, fiercely funny and unflinching look at some of the uglier sides of human nature.
The play, which is getting its U.S. premiere, is bold, honest and relevant, exploring the fragility of female friendships and examining the cruelty that can be born from insecurity.
During a history lesson on the suffragettes — or suffering jets, as one of the more clueless girls calls them — a naked photo of Scarlet pops up on her classmates’ phones.
Instead of rallying to her side, the pack descends. Her so-called girlfriends turn on her and open the judgment jar — making snide comments about her body and morals, and dubbing her Scarlet the Harlot. They’re mean girls with an extra helping of mean, chasing after self-esteem by finding the flaws in others.
But when a photo of a boy starts circulating around school, the reaction is markedly different. He gets the star treatment, and is admired as the school stud.
The play, which is a must-see for parents with teenagers, touches on a lot of themes — the pressures that teens face in the digital age, double standards, body image and the state of feminism through the years.
It is unsettling at times, but compelling throughout. Well-written flashbacks show the struggles and triumphs of women in the past, as they strived for equality with men.
The modern-day girls dance provocatively to female-driven pop music chosen for ironic effect.
These girls, whose mothers and grandmothers fought so hard for female empowerment, seem to be disregarding those efforts and sexualizing themselves in a way that feminists of previous generations would have bristled at.
Director Kianna Scanlon has assembled a fine cast of 15 actresses from area high schools and colleges.
It’s very much an ensemble piece, with each cast member getting a chance to shine. And shine they do. Most of the actresses display skill beyond their years.
Harley Winzenried, a UNCG student, gives a brave performance as Scarlet, the focus of all the fuss. During most of the play, she has little to say beyond “Sure,” and maintains a stony, guarded expression. But her façade eventually cracks, in a most convincing and poignant fashion. Winzenried also has some good moments in the flashbacks, especially in her turn as a female pilot in 1945.
Nathalie Tondeur, a UNCG student, is strong and effective in two flashbacks as a flapper and a hippie, and Alexa Erb, a Wake Forest University student, is very funny as an aspiring lawyer in the 1980s dealing with sexual harassment.
The cast also includes Isabella Basco, Gwen Beuerle, A’Niyah Brown, Brittany Coleman, Hope Dykes, Annalee Glatus, Kendall Mason, Jinna Sakkijha, Caitlin Mosher, Justice von Maur, Tracy Wegner and Sophie Wisenbaker.
They combine their considerable talents to make “Girls Like That” a powerful, important and yet thoroughly enjoyable production.
The set consists of nothing but big black blocks for the girls to sit on, which allows the focus to remain on the cast, whose movements are choreographed with precision and style. The opening moments, when the girls stride in, faces illuminated only by the blue glow of their cellphones, are especially effective.
Paper Lantern is also experimenting with technology. Instead of being instructed to turn off their phones, the audience was encouraged to keep them on, join the play’s designated Wifi network and go to a website that would allow them to receive show-related text messages.
Unfortunately, the network was apparently overloaded. I wasn’t able to get onto the network, and judging by the lack of light around me, others weren’t, either. Still, it’s an intriguing idea. Hopefully, the network problems will be corrected in time for the remaining two performances.