Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, New York City, (212) 719-1300
“If you’ve ever been a girl,” the prickly friendships forged and tested in Ming Peiffer’s new coming-of-age play “may give you stinging flashbacks,” said Laura Collins-Hughes in The New York Times. “Their exuberance, though, may give you flashbacks of joy.” We’re in 1980s suburban Ohio watching Kyeoung (Midori Francis) and her young pals play an invented game in their schoolyard when a boy hears one of them curse and threatens to tell on her unless she kisses him. When Kyeoung volunteers to kiss him instead, he blurts out that he doesn’t want to catch “chink cooties.” Such warped ideas about what’s expected of girls creates “the searing core” of Usual Girls as the characters move on through puberty and beyond.
Sex hovers over the girls’ whole lives, said Sara Holdren in New York magazine. Kyeoung and Anna know well that their dads keep “special” magazines in the bathroom, and the girls play games with their stuffed animals that are “simultaneously X-rated and innocent.” Later, when male classmates raid an early-adolescent slumber party, “it’s all wildly hilarious, until, gradually, it isn’t,” and when the mood changes, Peiffer introduces an adult version of Kyeoung, who walks on and starts offering commentary. Though the device distracts at first, the character’s interactions with her younger self become moving as we see how much misinformation Kyeoung must shed to truly come of age. Though many of Kyeoung’s experiences are ugly, Usual Girls is not misery porn. Instead, “it shines a neon light on how much of growing up, for usual girls, is a process of unlearning.” ■