Monday, May 27, 2024

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: "Issue #9" by Briana Bartenieff at Theater for the New City

This show takes us smack into the 90s. Before the show even started, I heard Britney Spears’s “Oops, I Did it Again.” My sister would have loved this show’s soundtrack. In fact as I’m writing this review, the song “Supermodel” by Jill Sobule comes to mind (literally playing it as I type this). If you’re into 90s nostalgia and remembering your teen years, this show could well be your vehicle.

But...underneath the gloss and pop of the era is a very dark and dirty tale. I suppose these days that would sum up much of the 90s if various documentaries and behind the scenes tales are any indication. If you dealt with body shaming and weight issues as a teen in those days, you may find a kindred spirit in Lexi (Ada Victoria) a young girl who moves with her mother Natalie (Sandy Melissa Garcia) to a small NY town called Germantown. The year is 1995, THE era of the teen magazine.
Sandy Melissa Garcia and Ada Victoria. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Lexi comes to town at 12 years old, presumably someone a little miserable having just lost her father and with money being tight at home. We learn that Natalie is working in her friend Sandy’s (Sarah Boess) gas station. Sandy’s younger sister Candy (Grace Bradley) is dealing with her own demons but more on that later.

Not long after getting to Germantown, Lexi meets Taylor (Amy Herzberg) and Ashley (Audrey Latt) who are obsessed with fashion, teen magazines and everything that flows from them. They are also obsessed with getting the perfect weight by starvation and embody the phrase “frenemies.” Lexi soon trades in her baggy Nirvana T-shirt for a yellow dress straight out of the fashion pages. Her birthday becomes an exercise in misery since she can’t even have a bite of her birthday cupcake though she really wants to. She doesn’t feel she can talk to her mother about her conflicts and Lexi later takes her own life, understandably devastating Natalie.
Audrey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Audrey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Sandy Melissa Garcia and Ada Victoria. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

We learn that Natalie went through her own body image struggles and downplays that in her daughter since she apparently got over that later on. Presumably she sees it as a teenage phase Lexi will eventually grow out of and overcome just fine.

After Lexi’s death, Natalie gets angry at the fashion mob and one frenemie’s attacks on suicide in the midst of Natalie’s grief definitely don’t help.
Sandy Melissa Garcia, Sarah Boess. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

You wonder exactly what revenge Natalie is going to enact. Is she going to confront the magazine publishers? Confront the fashion designers directly? Lash out at the media? No, not quite.
Sandy Melissa Garcia. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Natalie takes more local action but it does lead to the death of that disrespectful frenemy. It also leads to the unintentional passing of Candy, a young woman facing a battle with drugs that turns very nasty as the years progress. The show ends with Natalie serving a jail sentence with Stage 4 brain cancer.
Grace Bradley. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Sandy Melissa Garcia. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The set design and costuming are great, the musical numbers and dancing are very much on point and I like that a larger lady was in this cast and killing it in the dance sequences. More people should see that sort of representation on the stage, especially in dance where weight pressures are a very real thing.
Ada Victoria, Audrey Latt. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The presentation of death and how that was crafted in the story was respectfully done and not overly depressing though make no mistake, this show was quite dark.
Audrey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The show poses some interesting and provocative questions about the influence of teen magazines and their legacy (as presumably that era is dead or simply changed into quests for Instagram or TikTok fame). For one thing, which came first? Mass societal pressure to be thin or body image issues? Would people still have those issues if the media template changed? I suppose we’ll find the answer to that second question in a few years when today’s teenagers and those who lived in the era of Lizzo and body positivity are older.
Amy Herzberg and Audrey Latt. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

I actually recognized a few of those Kamikaze covers as issues I had since I was working in those days and had my own spending money. One thing I bought was magazine subscriptions to Seventeen and YM.

In 8th grade, the resident horndog in my class would offer me money to get a read of my magazines when I brought them to school to read during break times and lunch. He probably liked looking at the pretty girls. I was there for the fashion, the essays and the column on embarrassing stories.

No body shaming or weight issues with me; people thought I was TOO skinny and if I hadn’t been a quiet, smart, “nice girl” with bright red hair who came from zero and couldn’t tan to save her life, I probably would have been a popular girl. Or maybe the boys were just too intimated by me since I was laser focused on getting out of NC but I definitely got hate from a lot of girls and couldn’t get interest from the guys I crushed on. Think of me as someone with the body of Quinn Morgendorfer and the brain of Daria Morgendorfer if you recall that MTV show from the 90s “Daria”.

No eating disorders or unhealthy diets on my end; I’m just a naturally thin person lots of people hate and resent for it (probably even to this day). The difference between me and others is that I never went around body shaming people or calling them fat despite being asked directly if I was anorexic or constantly being told to eat the last of some food or to finish what someone else couldn’t since “you need it.” My tale would dive into the flip side of the coin.

Overall, despite this play dealing with very dark subjects and ending with a bleak outlook it was a good show and even had the infamous Hanson song in a scene change.

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