Regional Reviews: Chicago
Mia: Where Have All the Young Girls Gone?
Both Bonnett's work, in general, and Her Story's focus, by mission statement, focus on calling attention to structural violence against women and children. In this work, Bonnett blends the play's fictional abduction with real-world cases ranging from those that are little-known and years cold to those involving high-profile victims like Mollie Tibbetts and Gabby Petito. Importantly, Bonnett also weaves the names and photos of young women of color, like her title character, who have been reported missing in Chicago as recently as February of this year.
The story is primarily told through the eyes of Mia Daltry, a 15-year-old who either is an influencer or fancies herself one, and her mother. The same actor (here, Jamise Wright) plays both roles in addition to playing the leader of the activist organization that ultimately assists Mia's mother in ground-level searches for the girl, as well as in putting pressure on the media to publicize the case. All other characters are played by a second actor (Tristin Hall) who is credited as Essence in the program.
Although Mia is Black, the composite nature of her case stands in for and sheds light on the gross disparities in the treatment of missing BIPOC women as compared with their white, "acceptable" counterparts. Although this focus gives some much-needed amplification to this terrible inequity, there are rough spots in the text that pull the audience out of their emotional connection to Mia and her mother.
Class, for example, is handled in a rather uneven way. Mrs. Daltry notes early on that she has "no money." Given the specific setting of Chicago, this detail places her in one of the city's almost exclusively Black neighborhoods. But much later in the play, "Essence" depicts a judgmental, god-fearing neighbor who blames the mother's lax parenting for Mia's abduction. The character reads as decidedly white (and Hall presents as white) and upper class, making it unlikely in the extreme that she would even know, let alone live near Mia and her mother.
It is possible that Bonnett intends this character to read as one version of the type of person who feels compelled to attach themselves to the tragedies of others, but even if this is the case, the scene is a curious one to spend time on in a 75-minute play on a topic one could, unfortunately, go on nearly forever about. On a similar note, in presenting various grim statistics on the disproportionate number of BIPOC girls and women who disappear, as well as the dearth of attention their cases garner, Bonnett has her activists make mention of the "hierarchy" even within the cases of white women, noting that sex workers and trans women are not perceived as "good victims." It's only a brief line, but it does unintentionally deemphasize the plight of vulnerable girls and women with intersectional identities.
But the narrative missteps are relatively rare and the play manages to pack a tremendous amount of information and emotion into its 75 minutes. The text is well-supported by the music design of CCDM (Christopher Person) as well as Blake Cordell's lighting and sound design.
It's the performances, however, that are most notable and laudable. Jamise Wright erupts on to the scene in Mia's one-sided conversation with a rival influencer. She is funny, maddening, and even in Mia's most armor-plated moment, painfully young and vulnerable. As Mrs. Daltry, she code-switches to great effect, showing completely different faces, as of course she must, to the indifferent-at-best police and her dead mother in a truly heartbreaking monologue about midway through the play.
The play calls on Tristin Hall to inhabit characters ranging from the stony, dismissive officer handling the case from early on to a classmate of Mia's who may or may not have muddied the waters of the case by claiming to be a close friend. They exhibit a remarkable capacity to not only convey a host of specific characters convincingly, but to do so by using simple, subtle movements to shift seamlessly from one to the next in a way that is absolutely clear to the audience.
Mia: Where Have All the Young Girls Gone? plays through April 9, 2023, at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL. For tickets and information, please visit www.greenhousetheater.org or call 773-404-7336.