So, I've been wrestling about whether or not to do reviews on my blog. Since my main focus is Chicago theater, it makes sense for me to comment on shows I see. As an artist, one learns from seeing other productions and studying their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, I'm uncomfortable with saying bad things about people in a public forum. At the same time, I want to be honest. Instead of thinking of this as a review, think of this more as you stopped me on the street and asked me what I thought of the show I just saw. So, it's your fault.
by Frederick Kohner
adapted by Terry Mccabe and Marissa McKown
Directed by Marissa McKown
City Lit Theater
Before Gidget became a series of Sandra Dee movies and a popular television series starring a pre-Flying Nun Sally Field, it was a novel. Yes, a novel. A book that has been compared to Catcher in the Rye as being a female counterpart, but instead of dealing with breaking the necks of birds, we're dealing with breaking the hearts of teenage girls. The novel was written by Frederick Kohner about his daughter Kathy's summer adventures in the mid-1950's. It is the seed that spawned a surfing craze and a series of beach party movies and gave The Beach Boys a context for their career. Before the book Gidget (a nickname smashing of "Girl" and "Midget") no baby girls had ever been given the name "Gidget." The book made a big splash.
I have never read the book. Never even heard of it before this production. This was also my first time going to City Lit's space. It's a great space tucked in the corner of the second floor of a church/school in Edgewater. It has a nice, old feel to it. It is also lacking in air-conditioning, which makes it a little stuffy when the stage lights are cooking.
City Lit's production of Gidget spelled out to me by way of example the difference between a "literary adaptation" and "based on a novel." There's virtually no original dialogue. All the words are from the text of the book, which is why the author is given a playwright's credit. This is the book on stage. A book written in the first person. This means Gidget, played wonderfully by Sabrina Kramnich, is on stage every minute of the two-act play and even narrates a few "he said's", "she said's" during scenes. This gets very tiresome. The play works best when showing us surfing and swimming and when scenes are more dialogue-based and focused on the authentic reactions of a fifteen-year-old Gidget falling in love with a nineteen-year-old Moondoggie. It reminded me of a time when summers truly felt endless and being away from someone you loved for a week seemed like an eternity. The first act goes on a good fifteen minutes too long and is what keeps me from whole-heartedly recommending the show. It could use some trim around the middle. At about the 40 minute mark, you can start hearing the butts shifting in the seats. The play doesn't kick in until the uneasy courtship between the two leads. The second act works best. It's more active and it's easy to invest in Gidget's quest to win Moondoggie's heart and be seen as more than just a kid.
The set is beautiful, evoking a seascape along the beach. The acting is very strong. Sabrina has reams and reams of monologues to get through. She does her best, but could benefit from editing and a script that shows us more than tell us. The ensemble takes on multiple roles in support of Sabrina. Carrie Hardin shows quite a range and is very effective as Gidget's friend Larue and as Gidget's immigrant Mom. The beach bums that hang out with The Great Kahoona (perfect pitch performance by the chiseled Eric Hoffman) are a lot of fun, but, really, if you have little man boobies or are whiter than the hot sun, you might want to put on a tank top. Hard to believe these guys spend every waking moment out on the beach.
The language of the day is a lot of fun and interesting to see it was as much a staple of teendom then as it is today. Language creates identity.
So, is it worth seeing? Honestly, I'm on the fence about it. I hated the first act, loved the second act. It made me want to read the book, which might be the best way to experience Gidget.