Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Refugee Girls Revue: A Musical Parody (Theatre 80)

BOTTOM LINE: wacky, political, confused
If you’re a fan of sketch comedy you’ll enjoy some bright comedic moments, but the piece is still in need of polishing.

The Refugee Girls Review is a parody (a musical parody at that) of the mega-industry that has become “The American Girls”. For those of you not born post Y2K or without kiddies at home, “The American Girls” are a series of novels turned merchandising empire dramatizing the stories of young women living at different points in US history. There’s (and these are the real “American Girls”) Josephina from Mexico struggling in the wake of her mother’s death, Kaya, an American Indian girl who must become a leader for her people, and Kirsten whose family travels from Sweden to settle on a Minnesota farm. Now several American Girls stores across the U.S. sell, Sell, SELL their products to the tween set who can come have a tea party, watch a dramatic performance about their favorite dolls and shop to their little consumerists hearts' content.

The Refugee Girls Review at the New York International Fringe Festival, works under the premise that there is a new line of “Refugee Girls” on the market - whose stories of trials and hardship and struggle are performed by the Refugee Girls Club, a plugged-in set of tween glitterati, whose mega fan-dom compels them to act out their dolls’ sad stories. The premise is fun and the characters inventive. There’s Kyoto Canary, an Inuit girl whose igloo home has melted due to global warming and must relocate her family to cooler climates (in this case, Chicago), there’s Guadalupe Flores, an undocumented laborer in West Texas, whose life is saved by joining the army, or Payne Gone, a young Indonesian girl who floats to America on a Tsunami.

There are some real inspired comic moments here like from Rita and Katrina, two displaced girls from New Orleans, who proclaim “Rita, I told you, Santa died in New Orleans”. Or the young Refugee doll, Faluja, from Iraq, who goes to find “My uncle Osama… I mean Obama”. But in the end some of the Refugee Girl stories work better than others, and the piece as a whole seems to forget who it set out to skewer. Or maybe it’s just that it can’t seem to make up its mind who it’s making fun of. Are we lauding the yuppie consumerist culture that likes to package up its PC’ness nice and tidy and sell it to the masses, or, as also seems to be the case here, are we poking fun at the refugees themselves?

Somehow, though it sounded like comic gold on paper -- a skewering of the actual refugee’s stories, and the inherent stereotyping involved -- seemed to fly less as comic fodder. And this cast of Second City Alums, though they danced and performed their little hearts out, didn’t all have the comic chops to rise to the occasion. That said, there were some truly inspired performances, like the wacky Ruth Gamble who steals every scene she’s in, or Dave Hill who plays Token Male (the sole guy in the show) who takes on all the male role in the Refugee’s stories, yet manages with incredible precision, to milk every laugh out of his many small cameos. Lauren Maul, who plays the keyboard in her wheelchair for the Refugee girl songs (and has a Refuge doll in a wheelchair to accompany her), has a baby-voiced sincerity that skillfully and unexpectedly throws down some major comic punches.

The cast is having fun, and no doubt working hard to play against a somewhat muddled script, but alas, though the show attempts a longer format, it can’t seem to escape it’s shorter sketch comedy roots. A 10 minute short, YES, but an hour long show….

The Refugee Girls Revue plays at Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place. Show times: Saturday, August 23rd at 5pm. Visit refugeegirlsrevuecom or for more info.

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