(“Rat Girl” plays at The Exit Theatre from May 1 through May 24, 2014.)
DIVAfest was founded 13 years ago by Christina Auguello, who is the founder and Artistic Director of EXIT Theatre. Begun as a seasonal theatre festival, it now exists year round as an organization committed to developing women’s work from inception to production, culminating each Spring with a series of performances at The EXIT Theatre. Since its inception, it has produced dozens of world premiers by women, a formidable achievement.
Kristin Hersh, author of Rat Girl: A Memoir, is a recording artist and song writer with a passionate cult following. Her alternative rock band “Throwing Muses” was considered a major force on the alternative music scene throughout the 80s and 90s, and she more recently founded the punk-influenced “50 Foot Wave”. Now nearly 50 years old, she has written a memoir of her turbulent 18th year when she struggled with a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, got pregant, gave birth, and recorded her first album.
Kristen and DIVAfest would seem to be an excellent match.
Stuart Bousel’s episodic adapation of Kristen’s memoir does not live up to the hype. Presenting the material in 35 titled vignettes, it fails to acheive much dramatic momentum as directed by Claire Rice. At nearly three hours running time, it seems to have suffered from a desire to leave nothing out. For a play about a punk performer, it is agonizingly correct, with passionate emotions talked about (endlessly) and suggested, but never felt.
Despite these flaws, some of Kristen’s interesting insights into her punk artistry come through in the language, as when she remarks, “I don’t see how you can make something important if you don’t yell it,” and “Playing music is owning violence,” or (my favorite), “We’re not here to be pretty, we’re here to be muscular.” A few musical sequences are lively, but not enough.
DIVAfest founder Christina Auguello is quite charming and charismatic as Kristen’s friend, former movie star and big band singer Betty Hutton, at a time in her life when she had converted to Catholicism and returned to school to make a new sober life for herself away from Hollywood. This performance is the best thing in “Rat Girl”.
At one moment in the play, a character remarks: “Please, no freaking out—that gets messy.” This production seems to have taken this advice far too much to heart.
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“Rat Girl: A Memoir” by Kristin Hersh, adapted for the stage by by Stuart Eugene Bousel, world premiere produced by DIVAfest. Director: Claire Rice. Light Designer: Beth Cockrell. Sound Designer: Christine McClintock. Music Director: James Grady. Video: Colin Johnson. Set Designer: Josh Saulpaw.
Kristin: Heather Kellog. Tea: Shay Wisniewski. Leslie: Sam Jackson. Dave: Elijah Diamond. Shadow: Allison Fenner. Betty: Christina Augello. Mark/Ivo: Nathan Brown. Jeff/Gary/Gil: Tim Green. Voiceovers: Claire Rice, Stuart Bousel, Paul Jennings, Eden Neuendorf, Neil Higgins, Megan Briggs, Matt Gunnison.
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