Buzz, Press

David Gordon, nytheatre.com

“Girl Power!” is the theme of Keep Your Eyes Open, a production of the PossEble Theater Company’s youth division, the Arts Effect Theater Lab. Bill Cosby would be impressed by the eight 11-year old girls who take the stage in this hour-long presentation. These girls do say some of the darnedest things, but it seems they’d be more worried about impressing a woman like Diane Sawyer than Dr. Cosby.
Keep Your Eyes Open is directed by Katie Cappiello, a founder of the PossEble Theater Company, and her business partner, Meg McInerney, both NYU and Lee Strasberg School grads (Cappiello still teaches there, as head of the Young Actors Program.) With the eight girls who make up the youth company, they’ve devised a charming, yet entirely disturbing, program.
Eyes is disturbing for one simple reason: everything that the girls on stage talk about are the real fears present in the mind of today’s young ladies. The disturbing quality is the fact that, when at one point it was 16-year-olds worrying out body image and fitting in, the age is getting younger and younger. When you realize that the dialogue comprises entirely true and valid interpretations of what young girls think and obsess about, you look at the play differently. You think to yourself: “What the hell is wrong with this culture, this culture that thrives on Britney and Paris and dsay and worries about being fat and what makes somebody hot?”
That, it seems, is what Cappiello and McInerney are going for. Each young lady gets her chance to stand on the milk crate (literally) and describe her fears or dreams—whether or not she should be true to herself or should she change who she is to fit in or, in one of the particularly humorous sequences, a one-sided interview with Conan O’Brien.
Much of the humor comes from seeing the young ladies sing and dance to Gwen Stefani’s “Wind it Up” (a rendition of “The Lonely Goatherd”) and Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” or from dialogue which one would never expect to flow from their mouths, like “I’m not fat, this is a fat mirror.” Still, this left me feeling very uncomfortable, more so, surprisingly, than the hilarious dance at the end of Little Miss Sunshine.
The cast is very spirited, some are stronger than others, but one can’t really be too picky when talking about the developing talents of 11-year-olds. Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, as the lead whose “YouTube show” the play is framed around, is quite fun to watch, as are Gracie Bea Lawrence (who conducts the interview with Conan) and Vikki Eugenis as a Cheerleader.
Cappiello and McInerney have taught the girls grace under fire, and they are all especially professional when dealing with the losing battle of bedsheet curtains falling down throughout the performance. Daniel Zimmerman’s set, with “Hillary for President” posters and cubby holes, is unique and fits well with Eric Southern’s attractive lighting.
The downside of the script is that, for a show about how young ladies should not have so much pressure put on them to be beautiful or skinny or whatever, only the last ten minutes really deal with female empowerment, concluding with a slideshow of famous, powerful women (from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Amy Poehler, a friend of the production, who happened to be in the audience). The rest seems like a parody of what’s going on in the heads of young girls, with no real urging of “this is what you do to be yourself.”
Keep Your Eyes Open is truly a distinct experience, and it’s great to see so many youngsters having the opportunity to pursue their dreams, especially in this day and age when the arts are the first things to go when budget cuts are needed. However, I think if the play had more to say, it really could be something.