WHAT “School Girls: Or, the African Mean Girls Play”
WHERE MCC’s Lucille Lortell Theatre, 121 Christopher St.
INFO $69-$99, mcctheater.org, 212-352-3101
WHAT “The Wolves”
WHERE Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center
INFO $92, telecharge.com, 212-239-6200
BOTTOM LINE Emerging playwrights delve into teen psyches worlds apart.
No need to wait for the April opening of Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” to watch young women eviscerate each other on stage.
Two new plays by emerging authors stake out that familiar territory in intriguing, thought-provoking works, each performed by a terrific ensemble cast.
In “The Wolves,” Sarah DeLappe’s play that was a Pulitzer finalist this year, we meet, mid-conversation, a team of high-school soccer players in an unnamed American suburb. As the teammates warm up (and display some considerable soccer skills), words fly in an onslaught of random snippets, the discussions running from trivial (the color of their opponents’ uniforms) to practical (the best feminine hygiene products, perhaps TMI for some).
Oh, and as if to make clear they’re paying attention in class, there’s also talk of Cambodia (they wonder about the proper pronunciation of Khmer Rouge), the Armenian genocide and other worldly matters.
Things are not so different at the elite Aburi Girls Boarding School in Ghana, the setting of Jocelyn Bioh’s play, “School Girls: Or, the African Mean Girls Play.” It starts out sitcom funny, with six young women chattering about boyfriends, clothes and Bobby Brown, but mostly about who will be chosen to compete in the coming Miss Ghana pageant. All assume it will be self-appointed queen bee Paulina (“I am the next Iman”), who commands loyalty from the others with a mix of cruelty and compassion.
Into each group comes a newcomer who raises the competitive stakes and brings out the daggers. In “School Girls,” staged by current “it” director Rebecca Taichman, it is a young woman just returned from America whose lighter skin makes her in the eyes of some more likely to win the Miss Ghana title. Imagine how Paulina reacts to that.
The newbie in “The Wolves,” directed by Lila Neugebauer, is a soft-spoken girl who’s picked up her considerable soccer skills while traveling the world with her writer mom and almost immediately draws the attention of a scout. Imagine how her teammates react to that.
More troubling concerns — recent abortions, anorexia, body shaming — take both plays into deeper waters. As do the considerable losses, losses that go well beyond the soccer field or pageant stage. Watching these young women deal with the harsh realities thrown at them, whether with stone-faced silence or gut-wrenching primal screams, gives significant depth to plays that might otherwise seem superficial.