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Reviewed by John Coulbourn
In a perfect world, we would be able to dismiss playwright Joan MacLeod’s heart-wrenching drama, The Shape of a Girl, as a dated but still impressive piece of work — a carefully crafted artifact hearkening back to a more troubled time before we got our act together and helped kids sort things out.
But, sadly, we live in a world that is far from perfect. Almost a decade after its Toronto premiere in the Tarragon Extra Space, a new production of Shape from Green Thumb Theatre, currently playing at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre For Young People, underscores just how far we still have to go in dealing with the issue of bullying among young people.
There was a time, of course, when bullying was considered a largely male domain, but not anymore.
Inspired by the bullying death in 1997 of young Reena Virk — the Saanich, B.C., girl whose murder shocked the nation — Shape is also set on the West Coast. There, young Braidie (played by Georgina Beaty) lives in a state of constant, if unarmed, warfare with a mother with whom she simply can’t connect.
Instead, Braidie turns to her older brother Trevor, who has already slipped the familial bonds for life on the mainland, forcing her to pour out her fears and frustrations in a long open-ended letter.
Braidie, it seems, has become utterly and somewhat mysteriously fascinated with a trial taking place nearby, in which a group of girls have been charged with the murder of one of their schoolmates — a murder that bears more than a passing resemblance to Virk’s.
Oddly, however, the perpetrators and not the victim intrigue Braidie, who goes to great lengths to highlight class and cultural difference, building a wall between the teens involved in the murder and her own group of intimate friends. While Braidie is clearly one with the in-crowd of her world, it is clear that membership in that club is tightly controlled by Braidie’s oldest friend, Adrienne, against whom Braidie has always defined herself.
Slowly, in between rants about her clearly long-suffering mother and recollections of summers spent on the beach at a nearby camp for the blind, it comes clear that Braidie is something more than just a garden-variety self-obsessed teen.
She has, in fact, been staying away from school and avoiding her beloved Adrienne. Finally, between her obsession with the school-girl murderers and her estrangement from her own friends, a portrait of tragedy emerges — in the words of the playwright, “a girl in the shape of a monster, a monster in the shape of a girl.”
Directed once again by Patrick MacDonald, The Shape of a Girl seems more focused and distilled this time out, as it plays out on a functional and evocative set designed by Scott Reid and lit by Jacquie Lazar to shelter the story and its teller.
As Braidie, Beaty makes some bold and courageous decisions, under MacDonald’s direction, reveling in the character’s self-absorption and casual heartlessness, and giving her audience broad licence to experience not merely a distaste for Braidie’s action, but for Braidie herself.
It’s a gamble that pays off, for it gives MacDonald and Beaty an impressive opportunity to underline the truly chilling arc MacLeod creates for this character — an arc that clearly demonstrates that even while we rethink the notions that girls are confections of sugar and spice and everything nice, and that sticks and stones break no bones, we should also be taking another look at the whole notion that somehow silence is golden.
This play was first reviewed for the Toronto Sun/QMI Agency on May 13, 2011.