|All Photos on this page by Julie Rossman
NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW- in the December 9th, 2009 Print Issue
December 9, 2009
THEATER REVIEW | 'SHE LIKE GIRLS'
A Young Lesbian’s Love and Death on a City Street
By RACHEL SALTZ
Though inspired by a hate crime — the killing of a high school girl, a lesbian, shot at a Newark bus stop in 2003 — Chisa Hutchinson’s “She Like Girls” at the Ohio Theater is a love story at heart.
Kia Clark (Karen Eilbacher), 16, falls for Marisol Feliciano (Karen Sours), a girl in her algebra class. Kia fights her feelings at first, terrified of an identity that seems to inspire only sneers, slurs and worse. And Kia doesn’t want to be defined by other peoples’ ugly words.
“I don’t know what I am,” she tells Marisol, “but I know how I feel about you.”
Ms. Hutchinson, who has a sharp ear for dialogue (most of her best lines can’t be printed here), gets many things right: a health teacher’s lecture involving a banana and a condom; the casually cruel banter of high school students (Lavita Shaurice shines as a tart-tongued locker room tyrant); the hesitations and imperatives of first love.
And Ms. Hutchinson shows clearly the web of prejudice and hostility woven by peers and parents. Even Kia’s best friend, Andre (Paul Notice II, excellent), whose use of homophobic epithets is practically a verbal tic, is complicit.
But not everything in “She Like Girls” works. Mr. Keys (Adam Belvo), a gay English teacher who lectures his students about the poet Adrienne Rich, is too stilted and self-congratulatory to work as a counterbalance to all the free-floating hate. (And having an actress recite some lines as Ms. Rich, this play’s presiding divinity, interrupts the drama to no good effect.)
Strangely, the most unsatisfying thing about “She Like Girls,” a Working Man’s Clothes production energetically directed by Jared Culverhouse, is its inspired-by-life ending. Kia’s encounter with a gun-waving thug is one of increasing aggression, and though she aggravates it by insisting, “I have a girlfriend, I’m a lesbian,” it’s essentially an act of random violence.
It seems like a cheat, and not just because it deprives a young person of her future. It’s a tidy downbeat ribbon tied around the messy particulars of a life that Ms. Hutchinson has entered into so imaginatively. Bang, bang. Play over.
Speak up; be honest about who you are: these are Ms. Hutchinson’s themes, and she insists that Kia follow them to their bitter end.
“She Like Girls” runs through Dec. 30 at the Ohio Theater, 66 Wooster Street, SoHo; (212) 352-3101, theatermania.com.
|FROM FLAVOR PILL
"I don't know what I am, but I know how I feel," declares Kia Clark, an African-American teenager coming to terms with her sexuality in the extremely hostile environment of inner-city Newark. Chisa Hutchinson's She Like Girls, based on the true story of Kia's brutal murder in 2003, is the rare "important" play that counts as a joy to watch — funny and engaging as well as thoughtful. The flawless cast does proper justice to the frightening and often ignored lives of working-class gay teens. Bring someone who needs an eye-opening display of the persisting and senseless violence against these vulnerable youth.
– John Peacock
Just Shows to Go You's
Quick Q&A: Chisa Hutchinson
Dec 8th, 2009 by Patrick Lee. I talked with Chisa Hutchinson, whose play She Like Girls (currently at the Ohio Theatre) was inspired by a real-life hate crime.
Tell me why you were compelled to write this play.
I had heard about this girl Sakia Gunn who had been stabbed to death in Newark, New Jersey essentially for being a lesbian by a guy who was hitting on her at a bus stop. She said she wasn’t interested and he stabbed her. A really disproportionate response, obviously. The impetus for writing was the fact that I didn’t hear about this for 2 and 1/2 years after the fact. I wanted to try to write up to the headline for her.
Why, in your opinion, was there so little media attention?
To be honest, I think because she was poor and a girl and because she was black. I’m apprehensive about saying things like that and being the preachy militant, but it’s pretty obvious. There were about 21 articles published about her compared to however many about Matthew Shepard.
Did you investigate the real-life person or did you imagine her as you wrote the character?
I imagined her. I knew she was 15 and she had a girlfriend, so she knew something about love. I latched on to that and wanted to explore it as an antidote to the pain. I didn’t feel like an outsider looking in – I grew up in Newark, and took that same bus that she did.
Someone said to me recently that he didn’t ever need to see another play with a “gay is okay” message because it was a dead issue…
That’s ridiculous. It’s not a non-issue by any stretch; there have been a lot of hate crimes committed particularly against lesbian girls. While we’re talking about it, there have incidents even in New York where people think anything goes: a group of lesbians were out walking around the Angelika Film Center and they were accosted by this guy. One of the women had a knife and wielded it to protect herself after the guy grabbed her. The media coverage was so egregiously slanted and upsetting, calling them a “wolf pack”. That was just a year ago. There are many pockets where it is still not okay to be gay. In communities of color, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Which is ironic, really – how can we as a historically oppressed people make it a point to oppress someone else? I think I have a love-hate relationship with my community that way.
What would you cite as a positive characteristic of the community?
Its resiliency. It’s a shame when tragedy happens but, when it does, people will come together to be supportive.
I thought of the movie Precious while watching your play, because both show things that aren’t “correct” about the communities they depict…
I see what you’re saying. I just saw Precious last night; I thought it was devastating. You don’t want to be the one to air the dirty laundry, but someone has to.
Which is the most satisfying for you: the process of writing, or seeing your writing staged?
I like both. I get a kick out of writing; people look at me like I’m crazy off in a corner reading lines out loud. But then I also like washing my hands of it and seeing what someone else does with it. They’ve been kind enough to leave me on the periphery. They don’t need the writer in the room, man. To answer questions, sure, but otherwise….the play has to stand on its own. If I can’t trust intelligent people with it, and these are intelligent people, then maybe I should revise.
Have you seen this production yet?
I saw the first run-through the other night and it was really good. I’d never seen it with a set before – not to harp on one element, but the set (by Kelly Syring) added a whole other dimension. Also, the way that the director (Jared Culverhouse) handled the transitions, very cleverly. I write short scenes, and the way they segue from one to the next keeps the audience on their toes.
Are you working on another play now?
I’m working on two. I’m revising one about a black dominatrix who moves into a conservative area – she’s rewarded herself with some real estate but she has to keep what she does on the hush. I’m workshopping that one at The Lark. The other play I am more anxious about right now because I’m writing these Chinese-American women who deal with gender bias. I gravitate toward stories about people who want to be accepted.
Have you encountered any hostility for telling this story?
Not really and I’m not worried about it. I don’t want to say I’ve already been through the worst of it, but my Mom does not approve of homosexuality at all. She wouldn’t come to the first reading we did – when I told her what the play was about she made her excuses. I guilted her so much that she did come to the bare-bones production we did at The Lark. I was nervous – I was watching my Mom watching the girls kissing on stage. All she could say to me after was “Where do you come up with this stuff?”
But she called me a few days later and left me a voicemail. I still have it because it means a lot to me. She said she had gotten a chance to read my Author’s Note and didn’t know about the girl who had been killed and that she asked around about it. She said she was really proud of me. If I can get my Mom to approve and to see the merit, I’m not too worried what anyone else will say.
Review of "She Like Girls" - a new LGBT sensitive play at the Ohio Theatre December 3rd - 29th, 2009
December 4, 5:20 PMNY Performing Arts ExaminerJennifer Rathbone
She Like Girls, written and developed at The Lark Play Development Center by Chisa Hutchinson (www.chisahutchinson.com) and directed by Jared Culverhouse of Working Man’s Clothes, premiered at the Ohio Theatre on December 3rd and will continue until December 29th. A richly-textured drama, woven with threads of meticulously crafted sound composition and articulate comedy, She Like Girls compassionately bridges challenging topics, with intimate relationship-driven scenes.
Through seeds of homophobic hatred, sown in the first beats of the play, the life of 16year-old Kia Clark unfolds in a surreal montage of the obstacles she faces as an LGBT youth in an inner city. But more than the label that has been ascribed to her sexual identity, Kia is portrayed as a typical teenager struggling with a budding romance, the balance of school and home, and making a social connection to discover her own individuality. The tightly structured drama precisely juxtaposes dream sequences with everyday life. Overlapping social commentary is layered with character-generated language. Hutchinson’s poignantly written sentiments are expressed in Kia’s metaphoric plea: “Now that I am out on a limb, what am I supposed to do now, when everyone keeps shaking my tree, like this?”
Hutchinson and Culverhouse have teamed together with a wonderfully versatile cast to create this powerfully intense and tragically resonating modern drama, centered on the self-discovery of a teenager’s identity.
Karen Eilbacher, as 16year old Kia Clark
Karen Sours, as Kia’s romantic intrigue, Marisol Feliciano
Paul Notice II, as Kia’s best friend, Andre
Amelia Fowler, as Kia’s mother, Regina Clark
Adam Belvo, as the English teacher, Mr. Keys
Lavita Shaurice, as student, Alia
Jessica Gist, as ghost of the poet, Adrienne Rich/ensemble
Ashley Noel Jones, as the Gym teacher/ensemble
Chaz Rose, as the Biology teacher/ensemble
Produced by Working Man’s Clothes Productions – Darcie Champagne and Kenny Goldman
Assistant Directed by Terry Jenkins
Lighting Design by Jake Platt
Scenic Design by Kelly Syring
Sound Design/Composition by Ryan Dorin
Choreography by Sabrina Jacob
Costumes by Laura Taber Bacon
FOR TICKETS: CLICK HERE
This fictional story was a reaction to the real-life murder of Sakia Gunn, a teenager, murdered in Newark, NJ in 2003 because of bias towards her sexual orientation. A portion of the opening benefit proceeds is going to support the non-profit organization, Ali Forney Center, which helps homeless LGBT youth find a safe haven. www.aliforneycenter.org
Also check out video interviews:
with the director, Jared Culverhouse
with the playwright, Chisa Hutchinson
UNITED STAGES INTERVIEW
In most places on earth when a theater company is born the first question posed of the conceivers is: Who will be anointed the head creative honcho—the artistic director? But we discovered recently that company titles are not so important to the five-year-old, five-member creative team that runs the young but accomplished theater company called Working Man’s Clothes. Co-founder and stage director Jared Culverhouse explained, “Titles just seemed pretentious and weird” and co-artistic council member and actor Darcie Champagne agreed. “For us,” she said, “it just seemed best to identify leadership—but equality within that leadership.” On the eve of WMC’s newest production, the premiere of Chisa Hutchinson’s She Like Girls, we wanted to know how all of the work-sharing was working out.
Jared Culverhouse and Darcie Champagne, is it just me or is their something maybe Orwellian-sounding about the term “artistic council”? There are four of you thus described on your website. Does that mean that you two, Adam Belvo and Jake Platt are the deciders for Working Man’s Clothes?
Jared Culverhouse: I would say yes, and we’ve even brought on a few new members of the Council throughout the process.
Darcie Champagne: Yeah, Terry Jenkins is our newest artistic council member and he’s been great, so really we’re five now.
JC: We tried doing titles, but we’re still at a level where everybody does everything.
DC: And we mean everything.
JC: So titles just seemed pretentious and weird.
DC: I think, for us, it just seemed best to identify leadershi—but equality within that leadership—since we all also take on different roles creatively and the responsibilities really shift based on that for each production.
Darcie, as the only woman of the council do you ever feel ganged up on?
DC: You would think, but actually no, except for when they make fun of my ovaries.
JC: We actually did just do that the other night; that was pretty good times. P.S.: Darcie can totally represent.
DC: Despite my ovaries.
Before we talk about your upcoming production of She Like Girls, catch me up: What is the state of the union at Working Man’s Clothes?
JC: Things are good. We’re growing and learning how to be more efficient, and trying to produce the best work we possibly can every time we touch something.
DC: Yeah, early on we were producing like crazy, which was good and exciting, but I think we’ve grown up a bit as a company in the fact that now we’d rather do less work but do better work: acting, playwriting and directing have always been the focus, but now we’re trying to give our designers more to work with and up the overall production value as a whole.
A few years back you presented your work at American Place, and then…?
JC: They lost their space.
DC: We always try to find the right fit for the play in regards to space. So, we’ve done a lot all over the city, but our creative home was American Place Theatre, and Wynn Handman and the people at APT were great to us for a long time, but we all know the sad state of affairs as far as real estate and theater go right now.
JC: Yeah, it sucks. They were good people.
You picked up some IT Awards along the way, yes? Was that cool or are you blasé about awards?
DC: Hell, yeah, it was cool.
JC: I hate people that are blasé about awards. There were a lot of hard-working people that weren’t that lucky and I feel like when you’re indifferent about it, you really disrespect them and yourself and the work we’re all trying to do.
DC: I couldn’t agree more.
JC: Plus, pretty fun parties.
And now this December you’re at the famous Ohio Theater on Wooster Street?
DC: Not for the first time, either. We love the Ohio and have produced two festivals there in the past, Fuckplays and New York Is Dead. Robert Lyons and Vanessa Sparling, and the whole crew there, are fantastic people who believe in independent theater and that is more and more rare so, honestly, if we could do everything of ours at The Ohio, I think we would.
JC: I love the Ohio. It’s a special place and, in my opinion, the most unique and interesting theater in the city.
Chisa Hutchinson’s She Like Girls. Why’d you choose this script? I bet you get sent a lot of good scripts.
JC: We don’t get sent a lot of good scripts. And even the good ones have to be the right fit. This play is very honest and straight-forward and doesn’t pull any punches, but at the same time it isn’t trying to shock anyone. Chisa’s a great playwright who writes with a lot of heart and that’s the kind of work I want to work with, work on, and at the end of the day stand beside and be proud of.
DC: This play was special from the get-go because we were all excited about it. When we read something and it moves us, then it’s on for us; we are all very visceral people and so we operate from that place a lot of the time when choosing material.
What happens in the play?
JC: Two young girls fall in love and decide, despite their dangerous environment, that they’re going to be forward with their relationship.
This is based on a real story, yeah? A hate crime that happened in New Jersey? Why does this tragedy need a retelling in a theater? Isn’t it enough to read about it in the papers?
JC: The play is about more than a tragic event. The play is about a community, family, friendship, poverty, self-discovery, love and hate. The real tragedy, when a life is taken, is the way that affects those who are left behind. This is a story about how a community deals with certain aspects of itself. No article can capture reality the way live theater can.
DC: It’s interesting you ask this because lately I have been feeling the need to create a larger conversation with theater. I feel as artists we need to be held accountable for the art we want to do and why; there must be a reason for this thing we love, the need to communicate is simply not enough, and with She Like Girls I feel that need is satisfied. Chisa has very beautifully taken a violent act that represents a huge problem in society and reflected it back in writing this play: that is more effective than reading what someone thinks about what happened. It lets the audience experience what happened and discover what they think and feel about it, and in turn hopefully do something about it, making a dent in our world.
Who is your ideal audience for this play? Who is in the front row?
JC: I like the question; it just isn’t a good one to ask me. I don’t care. All people are kind of the same to me; I just hope they like the show.
DC: For me, with my producer cap on, I hope New York Theatre Workshop and the Public Theater and Second Stage and Manhattan Theatre Club and anyone who can pick this play up and get it in a bigger house with a bigger budget so that as many people as possible can see this play.
How’d you cast the show? Are there some Working Man’s Clothes regulars or all new?
JC: We’ve done a staged reading and a bare-bones production of this show, so some people definitely stuck from that. All of our artistic council can act, direct or both, so we try to use ourselves because it always is better for the show to have as many dedicated people as possible. Some of the actors are new; we always look for performers who are hungry to do good work and will have integrity for the work that they do.
DC: Adam [Belvo] is in the show, and Karen Eilbacher has been the only actor to play Kia in any incarnation of the show, so she has an incredible sense of ownership with the play that is contagious, and I think we have a really tight ensemble because of it. They have created a community so hopefully people will see that on stage.
As a director, Jared, what is the key thing you look for from an auditioning actor?
JC: Such a hard question. I generally just hope they do a really good job and I also try to be wary of people who act above it all or are full of shit. Having a lot of good people audition for the same role makes casting difficult but is a great problem to have.
DC: From someone who is also sitting behind that table, I really do want the actor to come in and be what we are looking for. We auditioned so many people for this play, it was a really draining process; we really just want you to be good, and cool to work with.
What did you find to be the most challenging element of bringing the world of She Like Girls to life? Are you working closely with the playwright to make sure you’ve got New Jersey down?
JC: Nothing in particular stands out in terms of challenges. There is a lot of work to be done, but it’s good work, and I’m happy to do it. Chisa is at as many rehearsals as she can be, and we have a very frank and friendly relationship. I enjoy Chisa’s company and I’m always glad to see her. As a company, we want playwrights to be involved and willing to do whatever it takes to make the play great.
Jared, please finish this sentence: Darcie Champagne rules as a producing director because she’s the only one I know who can…
JC: Do anything. Darcie has an incredible skill set when it comes to organization, thinking ahead and all of the other things that a business-minded producer needs to consider. In addition, she is a professional-grade actor, dancer and singer, but she still does all of this work, which to me speaks volumes to how much she cares about the state of theater, and doing work she really cares about, even if she isn’t performing in it.
Darcie, your turn. The first time I saw Jared work I knew he was good because he…
DC: Is always, without fail, un-apologetically himself. That kind of person is rare in the theater. Jared has so much integrity, he is passionate beyond belief, and he really and truly does not care what you think. This gives him a freedom in his art that most people train and strive years to attain. He can take a risk like it is of no consequence; this gives his work a certain edge that I really respect, and I see that his actors do, too.
Both of you, what are you most proud of about your theater company so far?
DC: We’re still going. We still care. We still are all really good friends.
JC: That we’re respected amongst our peer group.
Where can you improve, do you think?
DC: I need to get better at asking for money; it is still the one thing I feel really uncomfortable doing. Luckily, Jared and Jake are great at it, and I like applying for grants, so that evens it out. Plus Adam and Terry are phenomenal with numbers; we just need to get those numbers to be bigger!
JC: Everywhere. I always want to be getting better, stronger, more efficient.
What’s next for Working Man’s Clothes?
JC: Continuing to fortify the base of the company, while deciding what the next project will be.
DC: We’ve been flirting with the idea of incorporating for ourselves; right now we are under Fractured Atlas’ umbrella. It may not be an artistic venture, but it could be the next big step for us as a company.
What have I forgotten to ask you, and what is the answer?
DC: I have one for Jared, because I know he’ll give a great answer: Why should people come see this show?
JC: It’s hardcore. It’s real. It’s a show where people act like people, making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, being selfish, but also being wonderful, compassionate and empathetic. It’s a show you’ll be excited you saw that night and be thinking about the next day.