Monday, March 5, 2007

Review - The Girl Detective (The Ateh Theater Group)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

It’s risky adapting a surreal and lyrical short story for the stage. But then, it’s risky to write a story like that to begin with. In the case of the theatrical version of Kelly Link’s The Girl Detective, people will very likely praise or damn it based on their feelings about Link’s short story, because Bridgette Dunlap’s adaptation is extremely faithful to the text and style of the source. But love the story or hate it, you have to respect this production, ably presented by The Ateh Theater Group.

People looking for a traditional play probably won’t leave satisfied. The Girl Detective is non-linear. Certain scenes exist to set a mood or create an image; they don’t always move the story forward. And the plot, part hard-boiled detective novel, family drama, love story, fantasy, fairy tale, ballet, comedy . . . well, it’s often a little hard to follow. The main things to know: the Girl Detective is looking for her missing mother; she is being observed by a Guy in a tree, who is also the narrator of the tale; and there exists somewhere below us an Underworld where everything that’s lost ends up and where dancing is the primary language.

If you can set aside the need to be told a story or to have everything wrap up in a nice, understandable way and simply enjoy the experience, this is an amazing production.
To begin with, the Connelly Theater, unlike many Off-Off-Broadway spaces, features a huge, deep proscenium stage. Set designer Emily French makes great use of it by creating numerous levels and playing areas. The space also gives choreographer Whitney Stock plenty of room to display her rousing and athletic dance numbers.

The acting is superb. Kathryn Ekblad, a tall, striking actor, powerfully creates the extraordinary Girl Detective. Ben Wood as Guy, the young man who is basically stalking her, creates a character that is sweet and naïve, rather than creepy. While Ekblad and Wood can be considered the leads of this show, everyone receives at least a few moments to shine. Particularly notable are Danielle Thorpe, as the Girl Detective’s mother, John Long, as the Tall Man, and Elizabeth Neptune, as a television Reporter. In addition to being excellent actors, the cast knows how to move. Stock’s choreography is a pleasure to watch, which is in no small part due to their skill and the sheer exuberance with which they approach it.

Director Bridgette Dunlap keeps the play moving quickly, much like the music that runs through it. In addition she’s added interesting little flourishes – a dumbshow at the beginning that previews some of the play’s important moments, mimed gondolas to take people across the river to the Underworld, instead of the more prosaic canoes from Link’s story. Small things, but they add a great deal to the show.

You may leave The Girl Detective not quite sure of what you just saw or what you were meant to take away from it. But if you can let go enough to savor the experience of the show, you’ll enjoy it.

Adapted and Directed by Bridgette Dunlap
From the story by Kelly Link
Choreography by Whitney Stock

Featuring Ben Wood as Guy, Kathryn Ekblad as The Girl Detective/Ensemble, Charley Layton as Father/Ensemble, Madeleine Maby as Housekeeper/Ensemble, Elizabeth Neptune as Reporter/Ensemble, Danielle Thorpe as Mother/Ensemble, Sara Montgomery as Expert/Ensemble, John Long as Ned/Ensemble, Marie Weller as Waitress/Ensemble, Time Eliot as Husband/Ensemble, Alexis Grausz as Birthday/Ensemble.

Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street

Through March 17
Thurs.-Sun.: 8 pm

Tickets: 212-352-3101