Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Currently running at Tarragon theatre, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman's Guarded Girls is a powerhouse of superb writing matched by powerful solo and ensemble acting. Monologues intersecting with fast paced dialogue that enters aspects of the surreal as informational illusion is gradually eked out of complex familial situations - becoming a circular and engrossing tale of women confined by class, situational entrapment, and the flawed nature of prison systems. Systems that lose the individual in a maze of banal institutional procedure, leaving the women to fend for themselves, to build fragile relationships, and to find a way through - for better or worse.

l-r Michaela Washburn as Kit & Girl 2, Columpa C Bobb as Guard

Joanna Yu's simple set, cluttered gradually and stylishly with white buckets, possesses staging shades of Martin Sherman's Bent as the accumulation and seemingly meaningless placement of mundane props becomes a symbol of repetition, confinement, bodily function, and a form of harrowing camaraderie-cum-frustration laced with misspent anguish. Yu's deceptively elegant take on the nature of a depressing environment matches the elegant ways in which Corbeil-Coleman has crafted language into a complex puzzle that unravels/falls into pieces of emotional travesty during the concluding moments.

The doubling of roles contains an added layer for this classic dramaturgical device as the characters seem to become themselves and a connected another - a second character that ultimately becomes an integral part of the overall narrative of life's fated twists and turns. Every performer rises to the challenge, with a standout final say for a prison matron/guard of sorts (Columpa C Bob) who inhabits a mostly silent role for most of the play, only to rise from the ashes and become a powerfully performed part of the overall mechanism of displacement, misconnection, and untimely catharsis.
l-r - Vivien Endicott-Douglas as Sid, Correctional Officer 1, & Girl 1

Michaela Washburn as Kit and Girl 2 deploys a wild and penetrating performance, capturing nuance of emotion through anger, fear, desperation, and solidly played emotional tenderness-cum-rage throughout. Virgilia Griffith as Brit, Correctional Officer 2, and Girl 3 is an at times playful, demanding, and powerful counterpart in her opening scenes - and throughout - with Vivien Endicott-Douglas as an initial sparring partner who tests the foundations of a prison friendship. A friendship that tries to breathe in an endless match of mistaken life/plot points that threaten to break the endurance of two young women displaced by family, love - and fate designed by situational mishap.
l-r - Virginia Griffith as Brit, Correctional Officer 2, & Girl 3, 
with Vivien Endicott-Douglas

Corbeil-Coleman's great skill as a playwright finds a tremendous vehicle in Guarded Girls, as she weaves language through plot narrative as a way of showing how life and verbal interaction can throw disenfranchised individuals into terrible disarray with barely a moments notice - without warning and filled with the frequently tragic surprises that life withholds until it is much too late. 

The shards of hope found in Guarded Girls provide a performative kind of promise, whereby audiences can look into the thwarted lives of these young women and find ways in which to look more closely and more carefully when confronted with complex situations. Situations bound by class and gender that restrict the movement out of and beyond tragic moments that frequently and unfairly shape, and seriously damage, a complex array of interconnected lives. 

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