—Originally published November 14, 2016—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Be Agressive,” Lipstick Theatre’s cheerleader opus. Let’s hear what they had to say a few days after the production…
“Oh, and I realized I forgot to ask you what you thought of ‘Be Aggressive’ last week.”
Gwen and Dania were sitting together in their apartment – Gwen balancing a laptop on her lap in the bungee chair, and Dania nestled into the corner of their couch taking notes from a textbook. Gwen looked up at the question.
“‘Be Aggressive?’” Dania repeated. She put her notebook down and leaned back into the couch. “The show Lipstick did last week. With the cheerleaders?”
“Oh, right, right.” Gwen said. With conflicting schedules in an emotionally tumultuous Week 8, the girls had seen separate performances of the show, rather than seeing it together.
“What’d you think?” Dania asked. “Like it?”
“Ah…” Gwen tried her best to recollect her opinions on the production. She could see it in her head: the two-platform, three-table, four-chair set, the two girls in the car drinking Monster Gulps, the strange references about the gophers…
“I liked it,” Gwen concluded. “Generally, I liked it.”
“Really?” Dania said, with a tone of incredulity.
“Why do you say it like that?” Gwen said.
“Well, I was almost certain that you weren’t going to like it,” Dania said.
“What does that mean?” Gwen asked. “Did you like it?”
“Not really,” Dania said. “I mean, it wasn’t, like, a train wreck or something, but it was, like, not very good.”
“Really?” Gwen asked. “But, what about it didn’t you like?”
“Hold on,” Dania said, struggling her way up from the couch. “If we’re going to actually talk about this – I thought this was going to be a more open-and-shut conversation – I’m making tea. You want some?”
“No, thanks,” Gwen said. “But what didn’t you like?”
“I just thought the story was kind of confusing and hard to follow,” Dania said, moving into the kitchen. “I thought it was going to be about cheerleaders, and about this whole dead mom thing. But then the highway project is a subplot, and the sister’s grief is a subplot, and the other mom being kind of weirdly into the dad was a subplot…”
“Wait, did you think the other mom was into the dad as well?” Gwen asked.
“Yeah, did you get that?”
“I think that’s what they were going for,” Gwen said. “They wouldn’t have put those scenes in if they didn’t want to form some connection between the two. Then again, maybe she just needs to establish a relationship with him that they can then test when she finds out about him consulting over the highway project.”
“But that doesn’t really go anywhere,” Dania’s response came from the other room, amidst the clinking of ceramic mugs. “The protesters show up at the end and then what? She forgives him right away. Right?”
“Well, sure,” Gwen said. “But it’s…I’m not sure. Maybe that’s not the strongest element. But that’s in the script, you can’t blame them for that.”
“Fair, fair,” Dania said, pouring water. “What did you think of the leading actresses?”
“Marin and Rachel?” Gwen said, sitting up straighter. “I thought they were very effective. You know Marin is always going to steal the show, and she does…”
“I thought she was a little grating.”
“Who? Marin or the character?”
“I…well, I guess the character.”
“So,” Gwen said, corking the aside. “Rachel was nice, too. I liked her solo scenes at that juice parlor place. She has a knack for comedic monologuing…”
“Wait, those little scenes,” Dania said. “Explain those to me, I didn’t get it.”
“She’s at work and she’s talking about all the things they add in to make the shakes more powerful. It’s like this kind of metaphor for themselves. And then they need the powder that makes it all look appealing, or it’s just raw nerves. Right?” Gwen saw the blank, searching stare in Dania’s eyes. “I understood it, at least.”
“But I thought she wasn’t allowed to have a job,” Dania clarified.
“When did they say that? Did they say that?”
“The dad says that in the first scene. When the mom dies,” Dania said. “He’s like, ‘you have to keep the house, but we don’t want you needing to work to support the family.’ Right?”
“Oh, that scene,” Gwen said. “I took it she had convinced him otherwise. Because, you know, she was fighting him throughout that scene. She wanted to work, so I took it that she convinced him.”
“And then she steals?”
“Right.” Gwen said.
The kitchen was silent save for the sound of the stove igniting. Awaiting a response, Gwen added, “She steals, and then? Did you have more to that?”
“Well, she steals, and then what?” said Dania, coming into the room again. “Does she get arrested or in trouble or anything?”
“Well, at the end…” Gwen began, but stopped. What was the ending, she thought. She remembered Rachel Covey and Andrea Canizares-Fernandez drawing on the ground with their feet – and the confusion she felt until it was explained what they were doing – and Daniel Stompor holding a shovel upstage. But what were the scenes in between the ––
“What happened in between Laura doing her backflip and Phil opening the highway?” Gwen asked. It had been a few days and the production had slowly drifted out of mind.
“I don’t think there was anything between them, that’s what I’m saying,” Dania said, leaning in. “They talk about how the police are after her, or whatever, and how it’s a ‘real crime,’ but then nothing really happens.”
“Yeah, that was kind of an anti-climax, now that I think of it,” Gwen said, trying to retrace the show in the lines of the apartment’s hardwood floor.
“That’s what I’m saying,” Dania said. “I’m surprised that you liked it, because I don’t think the script was very good.”
“Hm,” Gwen said. “Now that you mention it, there was definitely something up with the younger daughter mourning the mom subplot that doesn’t really end…and the whole ‘we got the date wrong on this cheerleading camp’ ending is a little…”
“I was going to say rushed, but I suppose that’s a simpler way of saying it.”
“Well then,” Gwen said. “But I remember walking out liking it. So it definitely did something right.”
“What was it?” Dania said. The tea kettle began to whistle, and Dania walked back into the kitchen.
“I’m thinking…” Gwen said. “I remember liking the program notes. Where Delaney talked about directing and how the show was suddenly more relevant in light of…well, you know.”
“I do,” Dania said, looking up into the dim reflection of her face in the microwave. “Yeah, I do.”
“And the note from Lipstick as a board,” Gwen said. “About how the show was all about girls who lift each other up when they’re struggling, which I thought…”
“It was about what?” Dania said.
“How all the girls are struggling, but they push through and help each other out.” Gwen said.
“Oh, okay.” Dania said. After a silent moment, she added, “wow, that’s not what I got at all.”
“What did you get? Did you read the director’s note?”
“No, I didn’t,” Dania said, before stopping. “Last chance for tea before I don’t pour you any.”
“Well…” Gwen said.
“I have peppermint.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“I’m getting you a cup.”
As Dania dug through the mugs, Gwen talked aloud to herself. “See, I definitely saw that the characters weren’t all incredibly intelligent, right? The whole plan to sneak out to this cheerleading boot camp is evident enough in that. But it was their motivation and dedication to their craft that was still admirable throughout. That’s why I liked it.”
“Fascinating,” Dania said. “Yeah, if I had read that beforehand, I probably would have seen it all differently.”
“What, you only saw the squabbling without any indication that underneath…”
“Exactly,” Dania said. “What I saw was a play where two girls argued in a car during the whole second act, and the dad was trying to not get shanked for putting up this road that no one wanted. I didn’t get a lot of ‘cheer’ from it.” Dania gingerly carried two cups of tea into the room.
“Not a lot of ‘cheer?’” Gwen asked, as she reached for a cup of tea.
“Oh, pun very much intended,” Dania said, rolling her eyes. “But I wasn’t looking for female uplifting power, so I didn’t…”
“Uplifting?” Gwen said, smiling over her tea.
“Again, all intended,” Dania said, with a wink. “But anyway. I wasn’t thinking about motivation or whatever you theatre people think about. And I thought it was – not bad, like you said – but just kind of slow.”
“So weird, I saw it totally different. Interesting how reading that program note made such a significant difference,” Gwen said. “No, for me, the play was about appreciating the passion underneath all the cheering, even if it ended up manifesting itself in really unhealthy or unsafe ways.”
Gwen looked askance. “Which, now that I say it, isn’t a fantastic moral.”
“Well, the script is kind of strange,” Dania said.
“Eh, true,” Gwen said. “But if there are girls who saw it and feel empowered, then it must have done its job effectively. Something’s there, certainly. Maybe reading the notes are the key to finding it. I’m a bit of a sucker for female-empowering theatre, and for Lipstick in general.”
Dania made to sit back down, but just as she was about to fall back into the couch, she stopped. Gwen noticed.
“I just thought of the best way to end this conversation about the show.”
“What?” Gwen asked. Dania walked over, and held out her mug of tea to Gwen.
Lifting hers up to meet it, the glasses clinked together.
“Cheers,” said Dania, with a smile.