Girls Like That: How theatrical is this exploration of gender politics?

Evan Pacey's Girls Like Us examines slut shaming.

Louise Cove (left) and Isabella Tecson are standout members in the strong cast of Girls Like Us.

There are a couple of different ways of approaching Girls Like That, which is about slut shaming: you could look at it as a piece of theatre or you could assess it as a focal point for discussion. Despite committed performances from the teenaged cast, this production of Girls Like That mostly doesn’t work on theatrical terms. To a large extent, that’s because Evan Placey’s script is so polemical. I daresay Girls Like That works better as part of a social process. And that process is an urgent one with high stakes.

In Girls Like That, a class of teenagers from St. Helen’s School for Girls is paying scant attention to a lecture about the suffragettes when their phones light up—and so do they. On their screens, there’s a topless photo of Scarlett, one of their schoolmates. Scarlett could easily have taken her name from The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s prototypical slut-shaming novel from 1850: even though Scarlett’s schoolmates have all known her since kindergarten, they instantly decide that she’s a whore. They also ruthlessly criticize her body: Scarlett is too fat; her breasts are too small—or too large; she should definitely get that mole looked at.

The play covers all of the familiar analytical bases: our culture places brutally unrealistic expectations on female bodies; somehow, we expect girls and women to occupy the unidentifiable—and nonexistent—space in which they are simultaneously sexually available and unavailable; sexually active girls are whores but sexually active boys are studs, and so on. The problem with this, dramatically, is that that these are all predetermined positions: as the story unfolds and the flock of crazed young hens pecks away at Scarlett—the play makes a KFC meal of this cliché imagery—the difference between right and wrong is clear at all times. And that’s boring. Watching Girls Like Us, I felt like I was looking at an illustration of a familiar set of ideas rather than being invited to explore ambiguous and compelling processes.

To be clear: I’ve got nothing against the play’s analysis; it lines right up with mine. But, theatrically, Girls Like That is too predictable, and that includes the plot. There is one major narrative turn but, when it arrived, I had been praying for that specific development for so long that it was hardly a surprise.

All of that said, director Renée Iaci gets strong performances from her cast of ten. Alison Moreau anchors the evening with a charmingly humble portrait of Scarlett. In the script, no other characters are named—or even numbered; the playwright provides the lines; the director must decide how to assign them. Even within these conditions, Louise Cove is a good example of a performer who manages to establish a consistent and interesting character. Her teenager is a classic mean girl, but you can sense her vulnerability, too. And Isabella Tecson really impressed me. Tecson has an arrestingly grounded stage presence. Most of the time, she plays an internally conflicted schoolgirl, but she also becomes a boy at one point. Partly because of Tecson’s stillness, I bought everything she did.

The script provides opportunities for dance breaks and director Iaci shrewdly layers in tracks by female artists who range from the outspoken Beyoncé to the reactionary Katy Perry.

So, basically, I enjoyed the performances, and I share the script’s politics but, dramatically, the evening left me wanting more.

As I said off the top, though, there’s a whole other level on which this production of Girls Like That could be assessed. One of the presenters of this project is the Girls Leadership Class from Templeton Secondary School. That is hugely cool. Talking about slut shaming can change the culture and changing the culture can save lives. I hope and I trust that this production is part of that change.

GIRLS LIKE THAT By Evan Placey. Directed by Renée Iaci. Presented by Shameless Hussy Productions, Theatre Temp, and The Templeton Girls Leadership Class at Templeton Secondary School on Thursday, November 2. Continues until November 10.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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