The Dramat’s first Fall 2017 show Girlish, written by Alexa Derman ’18, directed by Jacqueline Blaska ’20, and produced by Gillian Fu ‘20, is a beautiful window into the private lives of two teenage girls, one of whom is obsessed with American Girl (AG) dolls. The set is a slice of adolescent life, a cutout of a teenage bedroom adorned with pink furniture, dolls, and their accessories. Audience members watch as the best friends dance, cut each other’s hair, exchange gossip and deal with issues of sexuality and femininity.
Girlish, though the name sounds idiosyncratic, is a poignant look at what it is like to come of age as a young woman. The main character, Windy, finds her childhood passion becoming something unfamiliar when she meets a boy online who seems to understand her. Their relationship steadily transitions from innocent direct messaging to phone calls to sexting.
At the same time, Windy feels her relationship with her best friend become strained because of miscommunication, jealousy, and insecurity about burgeoning sexuality. Agnes Enkhtamir ’19 and Branson Rideaux ’20 play Windy’s best friend, Marti, and love interest, respectively. Rideaux develops an earnest, thoughtful character in AGBOI97, his stage presence allowing audience members glimpses into moments of connection between teenage love interests. Although Rideaux’s character is 19 and our protagonist is 15, in the narrative the relationship does not feel as predatory as it perhaps should. Rideaux’s character comforts Windy, flashes his winning smile, and fills a void in Windy’s life where her best friend cannot.
Enkhtamir, meanwhile, perfectly encapsulates in Marti a sarcastic, sometimes biting best friend that can oscillate between mean and caring in the blink of an eye. Marti is a difficult character, and it would have been very easy for her to come off as an unlikable symbol of teenage self-consciousness. But Agnes rises to the challenge and embodies a young woman who is just as uncertain as her visibly awkward best friend, and the audience comes to root for her as she too searches for her (possibly queer) identity.
Windy, the protagonist, played by Walker Caplan ’20, is intensely awkward in an endearing way. Caplan deftly crafts a jittery, anxious AG vlogger who is hilarious in her gawkiness. Her performance is only made more effective by expert comedic timing. The entire play is full of little moments of humor.
The audience empathizes with Windy as she goes through her adolescence, as she grows and comes into herself as a young woman, with all the difficulty that entails. From fights with friends to insecurity to misunderstanding to the moment when he stops texting back, Windy, as strange and sometimes flawed as she is, is good and kind.
Girlish is an anomaly for theatre at Yale in that it is a quieter examination of life. While it does encourage us to have empathy for teenage girls and shows that their lives are much more complicated than we often realize, the play is not a scathing critique or an awe-inspiring epic.
But in this simplicity, it delivers bitter-sweet nostalgia. The script captures little moments of adolescence that we never dwell on, for example, gossiping about body hair or discovering that dancing can be done suggestively. It forces us to smile at ourselves, to recall our crushing over a new person with a friend.
Windy’s unabashedly feminine story strikes at the hearts of audience members regardless their genders. Watching her navigate young-adulthood, we consider the losses we have pushed from memory, from fights with loved ones to unmet expectations.You do not come out of the theater having watched Girlish with your entire worldview changed, but you do come out of it with a better, fuller idea of the world we live in. The play is funny, believable, endearing, and strange. It is not despite its raw juvenility that Girlish is touching, but because of it.