ITGIRL

Review by Katy E. Shrout, as published in the East Bay Express.

Émile Zola wrote, "I don’t care for the great centuries. All I care about is life, struggle, intensity. I am at ease in my generation."

Dominic Mah, playwright of Itgirl and artistic director of Emerald Rain Productions, is at ease with his generation, too. Like Zola, he understands that there’s an inherent power in audiences directly identifying with the lives of characters. But for audiences in Mah’s generation, that seems to entail references to streaming kung fu videos and MTV veejays.

Admittedly, it’s weird to associate the father of literary realism in any way with Itgirl, the eleventh Emerald Rain production. This is a show about an evil multinational cola company spiking the punch at a prom and using a teen pop star, Itgirl (Ilana Berman), to take over the world. There’s talk of "copying and pasting" human beings. It ends with a space battle. One teen, Veronica (Meggy Hai), is forced to repudiate her lesbian prom date in order to become the next Itgirl. And the action breaks for catchy, rainbow-bright pop musical numbers by Gaby Alter, Ian Burcso, and Sam Dorman, with high-energy choreography by Berman.

But Itgirl’s far-out plot is rooted in contemporary anxieties–not only a healthy fear of multinational corporations, or teen pop bands, or homophobia, but also the unnerving experience of being twentysomething and finding oneself to be nothing but a teenager grown up, of feeling nostalgic for the first time. Veronica’s brother Paul, a dot-commie sent to the prom as a chaperone (played with deliciously comic neurosis by Ian Jurcso), can’t come up with a good answer when asked if life gets better after high school. One promgoer looks him over and says dryly to her friend, "What, did that guy graduate in 1994 or something?"

There’s a lot of goofiness in Itgirl, and it’s plenty funny. But there are also honest performances from a very young cast. At the beginning of the second act, Paul and his sister’s lover, Eileen (high school student Rebecca Furleigh), unexpectedly connect in a lyrical discussion on dreams and what lies after high school. Talented actors Jurcso and Furleigh have a charming, earnest believability, and their conversation walks the line between postmodern glibness and deep aching anxieties.

It’s at these moments–when you’re laughing at the wit but wincing at the vulnerability–that you see how a theater using pop-savvy humor to connect to one generation might have found a fresh way to explore universal human neuroses.

copyright 2000, Express Publishing Company LLC. All rights reserved.

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