She Like Girls: A Cry for Consciousness

The senseless hate crime that ended the life of twenty-one year-old Matthew Shepard may have put a face on violence against people in the LGBT community, but it in no way ended such discrimination. A Wikipedia search reveals more than 40 known fatalities in similar situations in the following eleven years. The recent release of the book Remembering Matthew, written by his mother, Judy, honors her son’s legacy and serves as a reminder that the fight for compassion over cruelty is a fight still being waged.

The upcoming She Like Girls is a similar plea for tolerance. This Working Man’s Clothes Production, premiering at the Ohio Theater on December 3, is written by Chisa Hutchinson. The playwright tells the story of Kia Clark (Karen Eilbacher), an African-American teenager who happens to be gay. As her relationship with inner-city high school classmate Marisol Feliciano (Karen Sours) matures, the couple find themselves facing increasingly hostile treatment from their peers. Though the play itself has fictional elements, Girls is inspired by actual events.

“What drew me to telling this particular story is the fact that on the one hand you see this story all the time on stage, but on the other you never see it on stage,” Hutchinson said. “I just mean that it's a regular love story, but the love is between people who are conspicuously underrepresented in theater.”

And yet, Hutchinson avows, her play is universal: “Everyone knows what it's like to discover love.”

The story of Girls is harrowing, to be sure, but Working Man’s Clothes has a history of unflinching shows, including To Nineveh (a 2006 NY IT Awards winner for Best Play), Many Worlds, and Penetrator. The company, whose artistic council consists of Adam Belvo, Darcie Champagne, Jared Culverhouse, Terry Jenkins, and Jake Platt, prides itself on putting on productions that never compromise, works that have something to say. And it’s clear that these passionate players have a lot to say about this show.

She Like Girls has a great human story at its heart, namely, that of the blooming love relationship between Kia and Marisol,” co-star Adam Belvo said, “but more importantly, it’s about how this relationship affects the surrounding community. WMC has always found ways to find the human elements in shows and bring them to life. Here you have two inner city girls who, in spite of a generally disapproving community and monumental hardships surrounding their choice, decide to choose each other, love, and self-actualization instead of hiding behind what society and their community tell them is ‘right’ when it is so obviously wrong for them.”

Is the company worried about finding an audience for such hard-hitting material? “There is no dancing around facts, a girl was murdered,” Champagne, said of the events that constitute Girls. “The play is difficult, [but] we love it, we salivate for it. We love the challenge. When we read something and it moves us, then it's on for us-- we operate from a very visceral, emotional place.

“I am so over entertainment for entertainment's sake,” Champagne continued. “Escapism is just being too lazy to be held accountable. I know that may sound harsh, but we see the world around us and want to try to influence it or reflect back somehow. If you come to see this play, it will leave an impression. You will think about it later. To me, that makes it relevant.”

“There are still incidents of hatred and misunderstanding that continue to plague gays and those with sexual preferences that fall outside of relationships involving ‘one man, one woman,’” Belvo said. “The show brings to life the story of someone coming to terms with who she is, and becoming this person without being ashamed or afraid, which is always an important life lesson to be learned and repeated, no matter what the circumstances are.”

Director Jared Culverhouse agrees that the show is not only timely, but also accessible. “I grew up as an only child with a single mom in a welfare household and I think the way that this poor community is represented [in the play] is honest and human. The play isn't about being poor or being gay or being young, it’s about dealing with what you've got and trying to make the best out of what you have. Too many plays that take place in a poor community only focus on the negative aspects. This play may deal with an unhappy subject, but it's written with a smile on its face.”

Smiles may help, but Hutchinson acknowledges that she definitely met resistance when trying to get her play off the ground. “It's been hard convincing them that I'm not trying to convert them or get them to be okay with homosexuality. I'm just trying to get them to be okay with people, she said. “Fortunately, this play comes with a very loving and supportive community attached. Not just the LGBT community, but a community of artists and activists and other humans who just really like the play and want to see it evolve. Many of them are coming to this production and they're going to see how kick-ass WMC is and spread the word.”

Belvo agreed: “Fighting against adversity plays a major role in this script, something I feel WMC handles well and excels in putting on stage.”

Girls may have found a proper home in Working Man’s Clothes, but the whole company had difficulty keeping its house. The Ohio’s literal lease on life is in constant question. “Spaces are really hard to come by nowadays,” Champagne explained. “Real estate in the theater world is rough right now and so many theaters are closing. It's insane to me that even The Ohio Theater is in danger of shutting down – it’s one of the last great theaters in this city. It's a sad state of affairs.”

Nonetheless, the company has not lost focus on the main task at hand, namely, shedding light on the human cost of ignorance and intolerance. “The biggest challenge has been balancing the beauty of a life with the violent tragedy that ended it,” Jenkins said. He hopes that Girls will foster awareness of the “impact hate can have or has had on human life, which will hopefully instill in the audience an awareness of the consequences of complacency, an awareness that will motivate them to act.”

“I hope people are able to come away with a greater understanding of and respect for the hardships young people face in coming to terms with identity questions, specifically their sexuality,” Belvo said. “Also how communities deal with these issues, from the perspective of parents, teachers, and peers. Most importantly, that issues of violence and discrimination against the LGBT community are not a thing of the past, that these problems continue to plague us. We need to be vigilant in helping to end them.”

Perhaps Culverhouse sums up Girls’ appeal best: “The wonderful thing about this play is that it deals with real people,” he said. “To me, as a director, there is no subject more relevant than the human condition.”

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post