Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Teenage girls in trouble -- a theme that never gets old

New York theaters offer nothing on Sunday nights these days except “Newsies” and “Cirque de Soleil,” so I blew $20 on a new play I’d never heard of: “Slowgirl,” in previews for its premiere at LCT3, a black-box venue in Lincoln Center. It was about a well-intentioned teenaged girl whose most impulsive act brings tragic consequences.

The next night, I went to see American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet.” And what was it about? A well-intentioned teenage girl whose most impulsive act brings tragic consequences.

The ballet was done on the grandest scale: Kenneth MacMillan’s thrilling choreography, a full orchestra playing Prokofiev’s incisive music, ABT’s huge corps filling the stage for duels and banquets, principals David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova poised to become one of the leading couples in world dance. Overall, a night for the memory book.

Greg Pierce’s play had one small set and two characters: an expatriate businessman (multiple Tony nominee Željko Ivanek) and the niece who shows up on his property near a Costa Rican village, hoping to recuperate from a terrible event in the States. (She’s played by Sarah Steele, a name worth remembering.) Also, in its quiet way, an event that will stick in my memory.

MacMilllan and Osipova made us see Juliet as a giddy, half-formed adult, literally throwing herself at the bemused Romeo – a spectacular move for the lissome Osipova and dignified Hallberg – with no idea what the results might be for their fighting families.

Pierce and Steele made us see Becky as a fundamentally decent girl unaware of the ways her behavior affects others. Insensitivity, usually a minor offense rectified by an honest apology, leads to a terrible mistake she can’t take back. (With luck, a Charlotte theater company will tackle this 100-minute drama, and you’ll find out what that is.)

The coincidence of timing and the younger protagonist’s age reminded me of the old saying that there are only 8, 10, 12 (you pick a number) different plots available to artists, and those have been recycled over the 5,300 years we’ve been writing stuff down.

That’s untrue, unless you reduce ideas to the lowest common denominator. But however many plots there are, artists can wring infinite variations from them, and the best of those never get stale. Teenage girls have changed in countless ways over the last two millennia, but any work that opens their hearts to us will always hit home.