Joan MacLeod: Playwright
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The New York Times, January 26, 2005

When Mean Girls are Not Stopped

By Jason Zinoman

Braidie is just your average kid.  She’s a little melodramatic, maybe, and a handful for her mother, but nothing too out of the ordinary.  So when she sees her friends cruelly hazing a girl at school, she does what most kids would do—absolutely nothing.

Joan MacLeod’s sober and gripping one-woman show The Shape of a Girl, produced by a Canadian company, the Green Thumb Theatre, and playing at the Duke on 42nd Street through Jan. 30, adds to the growing consensus in popular culture that “sugar-and-spice and everything nice” might have been overstating the case.

In recent years, girls have been increasingly portrayed in everything from serious journalistic studies to light comedies like Mean Girls as tyrannical, bullying and devoted to a ruthless caste system.

Inspired by the real-life murder in 1997 of the 14-year-old Reena Virk by two high school girls in Vancouver, this memory play tells the fictional story of a less horrific act of brutality told from the perspective of a not-so-innocent bystander.  By making the play about her failure to act courageously, Ms. MacLeod has turned what could have been a simple after-school special into a much more complex drama with thornier moral issues.

Through Braidie’s eyes, the audience sees the plight of Sophie, an innocent, awkward girl who is bullied by her classmates.  She is ignored, mocked and referred to as a thing instead of a person.  Braidie sympathizes with Sophie, but also seems to resent her inability to stick up for herself.

Jennifer Paterson is brilliant in the role, winning our sympathies and communicating with painstaking articulation the weakness of being unable to stop something that you know is wrong.  This subject has been explored before.  Neil LaBute, for one, is a master at revealing the failings of the ineffectual everyman.

But Ms. MacLeod doesn’t have his killer instinct or his cruel streak.  She struggles mightily not to judge her main character, who feels so much more real than most portraits of young people onstage.  Ms. MacLeod writes dialogue that sounds like the way girls talk, without being a bit condescending.  Of course, the fact that Braidie and her situation seem so familiar only makes the drama that much more troubling.

“The Shape of a Girl” is at the Duke on 42nd Street through Jan. 30.

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