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Off-Off-Broadway Review

Girls in Trouble

Girls in Trouble
Photo Source: Joan Marcus
In "Girls in Trouble," playwright Jonathan Reynolds aims to bring to the subject of abortion the same gleeful mow-'em-all-down approach he used on the topic of race in the terrific "Stonewall Jackson's House." Reynolds scores some easy points by never underestimating people's basic selfishness, but he's less successful this time out. Though director Jim Simpson and members of the Flea Theater's fine acting company, the Bats, provide a first-rate production, "Girls in Trouble" leads not so much to intellectual ferment and debate as to exasperated eye-rolling and a quick contemplation of where to have dinner.

Part of the problem is structural. The naturalistic first act is nothing but extended foreplay. First we follow two college boys and a girl impregnated by one of them on a visit to a Cleveland abortionist sometime in the 1960s, when abortion is still illegal. Then we get an extended rap monologue from the grownup daughter of that abortionist in the Reagan '80s about why she wants to abort the child of her boyfriend. Both episodes go on too long and play as if Reynolds is dutifully providing historical context.

We don't get to the meat of the argument until Act 2, in a present-day clash between celebrity NPR cooking host Amanda and pro-life activist Cynthia--that same abortionist's daughter--over whether Amanda should be allowed to abort the 25-week-old pregnancy she has only just discovered (in a somewhat less-than-believable way). It's immediately clear that Act 1's realism has given way to hyperstylized satire. But though Reynolds goes to great lengths to ridicule the calcified extremes into which pro-choice and pro-life adherents have painted themselves, you can sense the self-consciousness of his provocations. Worse, by restricting the situation to a pregnancy on the brink of the third trimester, Reynolds short-circuits larger debates on the issue, almost as if he were afraid of them. Finally, issues of believability bedevil again in the climactic dramatic event and subsequent curtain resolution. Satire ceases to sting when it topples over into silliness.

Simpson stages the production in the smaller, downstairs space at the Flea, a smart choice because it keeps Reynolds' in-your-face writing right in our faces. The seven-person cast turns in sharp performances, led by the brave Eboni Booth, who takes Cynthia from 7-year-old child to troubled 20-something to serene, born-again activist with total concentration and conviction. Laurel Holland's shiny Amanda is a worthy foil, with Holland particularly good at depicting a woman virtually clueless about her narcissism. Also notable is Andy Gershenzon as the repellent Hutch, the impregnator in Act 1, an obnoxious young man with a big political future and a stunning lack of concern for anyone other than himself. Amazingly, Gershenzon, who never flinches from the ugliness of his character, finds occasional moments of vulnerability.

It's fun watching Reynolds taking ancillary potshots at his pet peeves--NPR, political correctness, vegans, and more--even when you may not share them. His is an admirably anarchic soul. Unfortunately, "Girls in Trouble" is in too much trouble of its own. This time the anarchist's bombs resolutely refuse to explode.

Presented by and at the Flea Theater, 41 White St., NYC. Feb. 28–April 11. Mon., Thu.–Sun., 7 p.m. (No performance Mon., March 1, and Thu., March 11.) (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or

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