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New York Theater

Dear Maudie

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Playwright Michele Willens knows that the best-friend relationship between preteen girls really is the one -- the one that sets the pattern for all friendships to come. It includes jealousy, possessiveness, intimacy, and affection.

The show is short (one hour) and simple, based on the new epistolary form: emails. Nicki (Allison Brustofski) is a newcomer to the school attended by Maudie (Danielle Carlacci). Maudie is going to be a writer, and Nicki is a talented artist. The two become fast friends and pledge to email each other until they're teenagers, or until they get a pimple, whichever comes first.

Director Jamibeth Margolis' staging of the two young charmers sitting at desks seems active. Jesse Belsky's scenic design is simple and colorful (love the defaced Grease poster). The emails include quotable quips such as "I have not grown one whole inch this whole year. I'm going to end up on a charm bracelet" and "It's so exhausting having divorced parents -- you have to do everything twice."

The girls' "tween" years (a press release credits Willens with coining the term for The New York Times) have familiar milestones: boys (a hunky crush named Kevin, played by likeable Tommy McKiernan, and sweet, nerdy Elvyn, played by Hunter Gallagher, who predictably morphs into a cutie), divorce (Nicki's parents), summer separation, rivalry, peer pressure, and rifts. Nicki joins a clique led by shallow blondes Lauren (Kelsey Merritt) and Alana (Kristin Piacentile, who wears a T-shirt proclaiming "I had a nightmare I was a brunette"), and Maudie and Nicki "break up."

Adult actors Michael Jacobs and Staci Rudnitsky add comic support as teachers and parents.

Willens' play is honest and endearing. Dear Maudie is for everyone who can relate (or remember relating) to Maudie's cri de coeur, "How can I like Pooh Bear and Seventeen at the same time?"

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