Dallas — Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) returns to the Festival of Independent Theatres (now in its 20th year) finding a new perspective on a frequent topic: women. Just Girly Things, presented at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas, offers several layers to ponder while providing laughs and striking chords—literally and figuratively. Artistic director Danielle Georgiou and Ruben Carrazana collaborate with the performers on the script, while Justin Locklear, Trey Pendergrass, and Cory Kosel provide music and lyrics.
A cast of actor/dancers and two musicians (Pendergrass and Kosel) open the production with a Mickey Mouse Club-type of introduction, complete with matching shirts and embroidered names. Marti Etheridge plays the main character Lizzy, a slightly awkward optimist who looks confused by how she’s been thrown into the cheerful showmanship yet falls in line with the musical number, giving the segment a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead vibe.
The TV show beginning sets up the performance as a sitcom, complete with a laugh track. After the opening, Lizzy waits hopefully for the guests to arrive to her farewell party, many of whom she hasn’t seen in years. The setting takes cues from elements of 1990s pop culture, including lip-shaped telephones, the Weezer-esque band that accompanies them, and various pieces of 90s fashion. Party chatter consists of reminiscing about high school and college, while confronting people and problems previously glossed over. They act out multiple flashbacks and reflect on their perceptions of the past.
The campy, candy-coated acting and musical numbers shine a light on the main issue at hand: the pressures and expectations that women heap on each other. Most females learned these “rules” subtly through media and the horrors of middle school, but here the Laws of Becoming Woman are spelled out clear as day, such as the need to be sexy and depend on another boy’s opinion of you to form your identity.
The first part of the show maintains the idealistic, Full House-style goofy cheer, with sobering moments where actors address the audience about specific insecurities. Later, the production takes a subtle shift into an anti-sitcom, of sorts, where the characters are forced to admit that life is not as simple as the brightly-toned, neatly scripted snippets of fluff put out by the media.
It’s difficult not to compare this to their 2015 FIT entry The Show About Men. After all, both productions deal with current issues facing each gender and how reality doesn’t match up with societal expectations. Each show also includes catchy, toe-tapping musical numbers involving gender-specific anatomy.
The structure of Men allowed for a more flexible method of storytelling and concept delivery, and therefore included a satisfying variety of dance sequences. Girly, however, finds more complexity with a stronger narrative, but that also presents challenges in combining a linear story with the abstract possibilities of dance theater, all while trying to deliver the point at hand. Thus, the show conjures some varying thoughts.
First, their 90s nods are spot-on, full of nostalgia, but likely appealing most to a small demographic. Georgiou makes her singing debut as the mean-spirited Cassandra, and her solo on the need to be famous and known is reminiscent of the stoic grunge of Courtney Love. Crushed velour, stiff skorts, and shirts almost identical to Union Bay bring back memories of another time full of scrunchies.
The cast works beautifully as a cohesive unit, each fully embodying their characters. Becki McDonald’s resonating pipes and charismatic presence are worth seeing, and William Acker delivers a grounded movement quality that still exudes a sense of ease.
The issues and observations regarding how maturing girls in that generation found information on navigating that stage of life and their identity are painfully accurate. Not once did an assertion feel exaggerated, overstated, or just flat-out wrong.
The combination of dancing and narrative is where the waters grow murky. Musical theater style maneuvers and choreography that harkens back to commercial dance movements find a natural place, and Angela Davis’ ballet adagio makes absolute sense during her monologue on the need to be perfect. Contemporary partnering in other places, however, finds connection with the dialogue only in pieces, making some segments seem more superfluous. Georgiou’s duet with Colby Calhoun fits her character but not necessarily the lines it accompanies.
The most frustrating aspect, though, comes towards the end when character backstories and complexities emerge, often without explanation or clarity. The cast members allude to past events but story fails to follow through as to why that mention is relevant to the narrative. The result is a powerful closing line that loses its punch because the ending feels too abrupt. Unlike Men from three years ago, this lack of completion feels disappointing.
Knowing Georgiou and crew, however, they’re likely not done. Let’s see what more time in the oven does to this delicacy.
Just Girly Things continues in the following performance blocks:
- 8pm Thursday, July 26
- 5pm Sunday, July 29
- 8pm Saturday, Aug. 4
The 20th Festival of Independent Theatres
July 13- August 4, 2018
Bath House Cultural Center,
521 E. Lawther Drive, Dallas
Tickets and passes go on sale in late June
Call 800-617-6904 or visit www.festivalofindependenttheatres.org