By Audrey Cefaly
Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Veronica del Cerro as Fin
Audrey Cefaly is a fine writer. She has a gift for character development, and her writing is deft and witty. Judging from her performance in this production, she is a more-than-passable actor as well. And she has done a competent job of directing her own production.
I just wish that these considerable gifts had been devoted to the creation and execution of a play, rather than the pastiche of scenes which is Mill Town Girls. This prequel to Cefaly’s excellent Fin and Euba has no center and no objective. As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, there’s no there there.
“I wanted to convey a sense of what it feels like to become a woman (in the Bible Belt during the ’80’s),” Cefaly writes in her program notes. “I never really had a message or an agenda with this play.”
In this telling line, Cefaly lets us know why Mill Town Girls doesn’t work. It strives to convey a sense, but it tells us nothing. Fin and Euba was just the opposite: it told us all, and our senses were informed by the revelation. In Fin and Euba, Cefaly laid down the narrative question early. Euba is a talented photographer who works in a dead-end job at the local mill. Without telling her, Fin has submitted her photos to Life Magazine. Life has written back. Would Euba open the envelope and risk rejection? Cefaly wrote a superb, economical play around that single compelling question. It was a smashing success.
Mill Town Girls commits all the mistakes Cefaly avoided in Fin and Euba. Instead of a central narrative question to impel the story forward, there are a series of seemingly random events. Instead of economy, there are scenes of flabby irrelevance, and the play clocks in at two and a quarter hours.
The story looks at Fin (Veronica del Cerro) and Euba (Maura Stadem) in high school, where Fin is a Bad Girl and Euba is a newbie and sort of a nerd. No sooner do they exchange their first words when Fin is hauled before the principal (Robert Herbertson) for dress code violations. Then they have lunch together. Then Miss V (Cefaly), the Home Ec teacher, berates Fin for not signing up for her class. Then Fin and Euba TP somebody’s house. Then Miss V comes over to Fin’s house and sits on Fin’s bed to read her mail. Then Fin and Euba have a fight with ominous overtones concerning Euba’s dad. Then Fin’s dad, a minister (Herbertson again), gives a sermon about finances. Then more dress code violations. And so on.
Mill Town Girls is extremely episodic; I counted eighteen distinct scenes in the first act, and fourteen in the second, and though there was some comic wit in them most of these scenes were – I am sorry to say it – boring. Ultimately – towards the end of the first act – some things start to happen, but they are pretty much over by the beginning of the second act, although the characters talk through them for another fifty minutes or so.
This unfortunate production is not the fault of the actors or the technical staff. del Cerro was absolutely superb as Fin, Cefaly was swell as Miss V, and the remainder of the cast was adequate. The numerous scene changes were made with dispatch and to the accompaniment of some very cool music by Beth Hart. Cefaly the director should have told Cefaly the playwright that she had no play there, but other than that pretty much served the play well, although I do wish she hadn’t had Cefaly the actor lean through Fin’s open window so much. An open window in the Florida spring is an invitation to the abundant Florida insect life.
Every successful play starts with an idea – a real idea, an important idea. There is no idea here. What may have happened is that having created two wonderful characters, Fin and Euba, to execute the story idea in the play that bears their names, Cefaly thought to give them an opportunity to extend their characters in a longer piece devoted to their background. It is a generous impulse, but without an animating idea or thought to compel Fin and Euba to move forward, it is not a successful one.
Mill Town Girls continues Fridays through Sundays until May 13 at Quotidian Theatre, behind the Bethesda Writer’s Center at 4508 Walsh Street in Bethesda. Tickets are $20 and may be reserved by calling 301.816.1023 or emailing [email protected].