In a Fringe synchrony, I recently saw back-to-back shows set in 1992, both focusing on women engaged in nonviolent revolution, both looking back.
Suddenly, 20 years have slipped by.
The word “grrrl” now appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.
“A young woman regarded as independent and strong or aggressive … blend of grrr, representing the sound of an animal growling (and thus human anger), and girl, as in riot grrrl.”
The entry brings a tear to my eye. As my daughters stood poised on the threshold of adolescence, that word — coined by young women around the country — spoke of so much I wanted for them.
Riot Grrrl Saves the World pays a theatrical homage (femage?) to those girls of time past, their zines and their bands. Their vibrant hopes for a revolution, made by freeing one another from gender roles. And their quests for love and meaning, those questions that dog us all.
Playwright Louisa Hill (The Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers) takes us back to 1992, as three schoolgirls gather — Joslyn (Zoe Lillian), Steph (Emma Servant) and Harriet (Tiffany Mo). Bubbling with portent like Macbeth’s witches, they lay photocopied thought-bombs beneath the patriarchy. Soon, their words morph into music, and they stumble into being a garage band.
Meanwhile, a fourth girl — Darla (Poonam Basu) — defects from schoolworld to join them. But she’s a Jehovah’s Witness, straining at the bounds of that narrow faith (and her boyfriend’s narrow notions of love). Joslyn welcomes her, but Steph and Emma aren’t so sure.
Hill thus sets up the Witnesses, daily anticipating the word’s end, as a shadow or foil to the grrrls’ expectations of a revolution. Neither apocalypse arrives. But the author makes no point of this, letting it lie quietly in the subtext — and in us, since we too have have outlived them both.
What does arrive is the complexity of love, surrounded by the rest of life, struggling to survive each partner’s insecurities … and falling apart. But does falling apart equal failure, for love or a revolution?
Again, Hill makes no overt point of this. Instead, after the slow collapse of the moment, we see yet another girl (Maggie Blake) — whom we saw briefly before the story began — putting a zine back in a box. She then picks up a tape and walks off listening to it, starting to dance. Unnamed in the play, unseen by the others, she is listed in the program simply as Grrrl.
The actors create believable teens, embodying youth’s passionate energy and inconsistency. They’re also clear and strong vocally, even singing to amplified instruments (which they play exactly like garage-band beginners, a feat much harder than it looks). And director Scott Marden moves them smartly about the small stage, letting the love story’s adagio moments (afterglow, collapse) slow the pace without losing it.
Riot Grrrl Saves the World is fast and funny, but deceptively deep and wise in its best moments. Rather like grrrls themselves — long may they thrive!
Riot Grrrl Saves the World, by Louisa Hill, directed by Scott Marden.
Presented by Will Play for Food Theatre Group at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd.
Saturday June 28 at 5:30 pm.