Troubled Teens on TV

Sticky Girls, at the 2006 Midtown International Theater Festival, is subtitled "The Anti-Reality Show." I imagine the subtitle refers to a fictional talk show, The Roxy Rose Show, that the characters are appearing on, as well as to the ambiguous line between reality and performance on TV, which seems to be explored throughout the production. It might even refer to the dichotomy between the real world and the fantasy worlds that the two troubled teenaged girls—the sticky girls of the title—sometimes create for themselves. And yet, despite the negation in that subtitle, I had trouble determining what I was supposed to find real and unreal. The play's conceit, that we are watching a taping of a trashy daytime talk show, is introduced immediately. The Stage Manager comes out to "warm up" the crowd, to explain the rules of TV (no one gets to go to the bathroom) and to do the obligatory cellphone reminder. The introduction of the other characters is straightforward, as we now move into a more traditional narrative structure. Backstage before the taping begins, we meet Harley (Robin Long) and Sergeant Manley (David Copeland).

Harley, a young entrepreneur, is a guest on the show, invited to introduce her delicious brand of salsa. Sergeant Manley, we soon learn, is going to be on the show too. He's Roxy's reluctant hired muscle, the man who's going to toughen up some wild girls. Roxy herself (Sharon O'Connell) is a sweet-and-sour mixture of Jenny Jones and Sally Jessy Raphael: a brash, powerful woman with a taste for the sensational. It's her show, and she's going to make sure she delivers a good episode.

Once taping begins, we meet the saucy, outrageous Geo (Jennifer Loryn) and soon realize that maybe Harley's not as sweet as her inspired salsa pitch would have us believe. The two girls are soon in Sergeant Manley's custody. He tries to make headway with them so they can set themselves on a better path, but, as in real life, things are always more complicated than they seem.

Loryn's high energy as Geo and Long's complex yet delicate portrayal of Harley carry the show. Both young women had a strong understanding of their characters and gave spirited performances. It helped that playwright Linda Evans gave Harley such a splendid, quirky way of talking, while Geo had colorful speeches backed up with serious attitude.

Copeland was nicely believable as a good cop just trying to help some struggling kids. He seemed quite comfortable onstage and provided a solid foundation for his co-stars to play against. O'Connell's Roxy was crisp and menacing, but I wondered if she could have been bigger and bolder. Occasionally, she seemed overshadowed by the two girls.

The playwright's idea for a TV show scenario was fun and creative, and she's clearly a masterful writer. Unfortunately, I was often confused by the setting and by the action: I couldn't tell whether I was watching a scene that was "on-air" and directed to the TV audience or a scene taking place off-camera. A lighting cue or a sound effect, or even an illuminated "on-air" sign, would have helped. Also, a better delineation of the physical space—Roxy's stage setup, the holding cell—would have highlighted the talented performances more by giving the actors something to play "into."

The production was obviously limited by the venue—the Jewel Box Theater has a tiny playing area, and the placement of the audience was not ideal. The show might also have benefited from more sophisticated technical capabilities than were permitted in this space. While there were some "sticky" problems with structure and staging, these things could be smoothed out with further development. Overall, Sticky Girls has the potential to be an entertaining, successful show.

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