Regional Reviews: St. Louis
To the New Girl
But To the New Girl (subtitle: sound advice for my former husband's wife or mistress) covers a lot more territory, including spousal abuse and end-of-life dalliances, under the direction of Katie Palazzola. Ten actresses come to the stage, each delivering a monolog of modern woman, scorned.
Dorothy LaBounty has the greatest storytelling ability: delivering the final epistle, in this case to a nursing home caregiver. "My Dear June" tells the story of a wife who's losing her elderly husband, but not just to dementia. All of the stories are of letting-go. And, because of the issues at hand (and the emotional texture of Ms. LaBounty's performance), this one's the most touching.
Some of the letting-gos, in tirades and occasional laments, set these characters free, while others are left feeling condemned. But some of these stories hinge on the inherent humor of an indomitable woman who's been wronged: Taleesha Caturah scores a laugh, just snarling/sighing out the title/salutation of her monolog, "Stephanie, Stephanie, Stephanie..." But Ashley Netzhammer's story of her wedding night and the nights that followed (which she delivers in a bridal gown) can trace its lineage back to the unfortunate Miss Havisham, of Great Expectations.
Bre Love is excellent in her powerful farewell note to "Tiffany Renee Hoyt," turning a rage-ridden husband over to a girl who clearly does not understand what she's in for. And then there's Elizabeth Rajchart as Bethany, who has a surprising foe on the battlefield of love in her marriage to a handsome televangelist. Shock and evangelical embarrassment turn abruptly to sensible calculation as she recites, "Dear Trevor."
Marie Kelly brings some much-needed swagger to the production as Alexis, in a note to her au pair, "Pilar," though, of course, the subject matter is inherently humbling for the other nine characters. When Ms. Kelly walks on stage, her rich-lady handbag lands on the hollow stage floor with a resounding "thud!" But gradually our sympathy turns to something much more complex, as Alexis makes her dominance over the family nanny just as sparkling-clear as the many jewels she wears.
L'Oréal Stevenson is knowing but powerless as Karen, writing to an 18-year-old girl she taught in high school: "Maureen Pender (WTF are you doing in my house?)." But she finds enough natural superiority as a wife and teacher to lay down the law, through homey recipes for pork chops and fettuccine, delivered with a deceptively conversational attitude. Of course we like it best when the victim grabs the bull by the horns, as Ms. Stevenson's Karen does here.
Each performance is (at least) goodseveral are damned goodand it's very reasonable to expect the good ones will gain more focus and emotional articulation as the show goes into its second and final weekend. To the New Girl is very much like a highlight reel of terrible collisions on the football field: sometimes the players get up, and sometimes they get carried away. But it's all for keeps, under the direction of Ms. Palazzola.
Through February 12, 2017, at the .ZACK Arts Incubator, 3224 Locust Ave. (just west of Compton Ave., and north of SLU's Chaifetz Arena). Performances benefit The Lead Institute for advocacy for the deaf. For more information visit www.tesseracttheatre.org.