This One Girl's Story
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 29, 2010
Quick: name all the American musicals about lesbians. Especially lesbians of color.
No, I couldn't think of any either. Which is why This One Girl's Story—the final offering of Gayfest NYC 2010—qualifies as groundbreaking work. The story it has to tell—about a group of four young lesbian women from Newark, New Jersey who are looking for love and self-actualization, and what happens after one of them is killed as the result of a hate crime—is timely and too little heard on our stages.
The plot revolves around Patrice (the "one girl" of the title), a teenager who is just coming to terms with her sexuality at the time of the tragic murder of her older cousin, Cee Cee. Cee Cee is a friend and also a role model to Patrice: she has been in a long-term (though troubled) relationship with a woman, Dessa, and serves as a kind of mother hen to Patrice and another friend who is coming out, Lourdes. Apart from her jealous streak, Cee Cee is a warm, loving, life-affirming individual. The first long scene of the play takes place in her bedroom, where she entertains her friends as they get ready for a first-ever trip to Greenwich Village. The musical follows the girls on the train to New York and then to a club, where Cee Cee and Dessa have it out, Lourdes proclaims her freedom (and availability), and Patrice finds herself on the dance floor with a lovely older woman named Promise.
The trip back to Newark ends tragically, however. This One Girl's Story ends in a courthouse where Patrice needs to make a decision as to whether she will testify against the man who murdered Cee Cee.
The story is told in dialogue (book by Bil Wright) and song (score by Dionne McClain-Freeney). Chasten Harmon (Patrice), Lacretta Nicole (Cee Cee), Zonya Love Johnson (Dessa), and Desiree Rodriguez (Lourdes) pour enormous energy and talent into their roles, especially during the musical numbers; they are ably supported by Charles E. Wallace and Tanesha Gary, who play the other roles in the piece. J Oconer Navarro musical directs a great-sounding orchestra, hidden offstage. Production values, appropriate to the festival environment, are minimal; Devanand Janki is at the helm.
I was surprised and sometimes disappointed by some of the choices made by the creative team. Most fundamentally, I couldn't help wondering why Patrice's testimony was deemed to be so crucial; I kept thinking that Cee Cee's mother (who appears in the courthouse scenes) and Dessa had more claim on this particular story than Patrice might, since the authors don't really show us in a clear way how Patrice has been affected by the loss of her friend, apart from being unwilling to talk about her.
I also wondered why the musical vocabulary of these young women felt so old-fashioned; I'm no expert, but it felt like all of the songs in the score could have been written in 1971. Where is the hip-hop and other contemporary sounds that I would have expected in the mouths and minds of young urban women in their late teens/early 20s?
That said, it is indeed gratifying that a story such as this is being told in the theatre. If the show undergoes further development (as the festival producers assured us it would) then This One Girl's Story could well be something worth discovering in the future.