Los Angeles Theater Review: GIRLFRIEND (Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City)

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by Tony Frankel on July 26, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


While it’s being sold as a rock musical, Todd Almond’s gay two-hander is really a play; the songs from Matthew Sweet’s 1991 breakout album Girlfriend are indiscriminately tossed into the script as filler. Take away the music and you’re left with a very small coming-of-age tale ideal for a Fringe Festival, maybe, but certainly not for a multi-million dollar regional theater outfit.

Curt Hansen in GIRLFRIEND. Photo by Craig Schwartz

The plotline keeps gay film festivals in the mink: It’s that oh-so-hot fantasy in which the humpy jock falls truly/madly/deeply in love with the bullied and socially awkward but loveable nerd. In this case, the two know each other peripherally from their Nebraska high school in 1993; they essentially meet cute when the hot baseball player Mike (Curt Hansen) calls up misfit Will (Ryder Bach), who answers a giant cordless phone from the bedroom where he spends most of his time. (At the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Will also spends much of his time talking directly to us; after one of many cute fourth wall-breaking confessionals, he says, “Stop looking at me like that.”)

Ryder Bach in GIRLFRIEND. Photo by Craig Schwartz

What prompted this phone call? Mike gave Will a mixtape and is curious how Will feels about it. Next thing you know, the two are at a drive-in movie, followed by assorted non-date dates in which the two teens navigate the awkwardness of the love that dare not speak its name. For just over 90 minutes, the show remains doggedly cute, and Almond’s constantly aborted teenspeak—replete with silences meant to be dripping in meaning—is not without its charm. But I never once believed in this relationship, regardless of the good-time nostalgia (there is no mention of AIDS or the fear of getting caught). And why do we know plenty about Mike and his tough Midwestern single dad, but precious little about Will?

Ryder Bach and Curt Hansen in GIRLFRIEND. Photo by Craig Schwartz

Adding to the perennial cuteness is a live Indigo Girls-like band housed behind the boys in a paneled basement with strands of Christmas lights, but I found it odd that the band had a representational set while the boys used a couch to depict a car, et al. Ultimately, it’s as if director Les Waters knows how cute this show is and plays up those aspects instead of the drama—of which admittedly there isn’t much. So when a wholly unbelievable, tagged-on happy ending occurs, what you take from this show depends entirely on how much you are willing to swallow.

Janet Robin, Vivi Rama, Julie Wolf and Jyn Yates in GIRLFRIEND. Photo by Craig Schwartz

Curt Hansen and Ryder Bach in GIRLFRIEND. Photo by Craig Schwartzphotos by Craig Schwartz

Center Theatre Group
Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City
ends on August 9, 2015
for tickets, call (213) 628-2772
or visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ezra Buzzington July 28, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Oh, Tony. Why you insist on constantly dismissing the validity of Fringe Festivals will forever astound me. Your friend and nemesis. Ezra Buzzington


Tony Frankel July 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm

My good Ezra:

The Fringe reference had nothing to do with the quality or validity of the project. This year’s Hollywood Fringe offered some of the best theater I’ve seen this year. I was referring to the TYPE of show: Small cast; low budget; gay; experimental; and, in some ways, showcase-y (did I just use the word “showcase-y”?).


Ezra Buzzington July 31, 2015 at 12:14 pm

You did. And you are not forgiven.


Jason Rohrer August 3, 2015 at 2:36 pm

I’m with Tony on this. I don’t think his fringe reference was dismissive at all. It wisely discriminated between one kind of show and another, without reference to quality. Whereas if I had written a disparaging fringe reference it really would have been disparaging. I can’t help it. I’m seeking treatment.


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