This weekend, Brandeis Ensemble Theatre premieres its latest production, “Lost Girls,” a two-act drama about obstacles and trauma faced by women in all walks of life. The play was written and directed by Charlie Madison ’15.
“Lost Girls” explores its themes through five women, each representative of a specific archetype of survivors of trauma. The play begins with Daniela (Mira Kessler ’16), a college student who arrives in a mysterious pit. Seated circling the pit are four other women: 7-year-old Jessie (Julia Davidovitz ’15), Kitty the bubbly housewife (Abby Kirshbaum ’16), a pop star named Mehndi (Joanna Murphy ’17) and poet/novelist Sylvia Plath (Lily Elderkin ’18). They have been sitting in the circle for an untold amount of time, generally not speaking to one another, only moving from their seats to sleep or avoid a mysterious wind.
Unsatisfied by the situation, Daniela decides to find an escape from their purgatory, uniting the group under a banner for the first time. This move forward also allows the five women to reveal and confront how they got where they are in the first place. “Lost Girls” is ambitious, to say the least, in the same way that any piece of narrative dealing with themes of sexual violence is. Being that these are themes that affect a huge percentage of women every hour of every day, and they are often presented or fictionalized with a serious lack of sensitivity in our society and culture, it is incredibly difficult to portray these themes adequately. “Lost Girls” chooses to go the hard route, with the obvious intention of forcing its audience to confront graphic portrayals of trauma in order to fully recognize how traumatic the issues are. The play does this without much subtlety, with characters often screaming out their dark past to the heavens and the audience.
Unfortunately, the characters do not have much depth to them besides their specific traumas, leading to a series of scenes that serve only to push forward the feeling of being trapped—made palpable by the sparsely decorated set and minimal staging—and not giving any sense of who these women are. The cast does well with their roles, especially in the most emotional scenes, but the roles themselves never become much more than generic victims representative of news headlines. Having Sylvia Plath as a character creates a strange base for the story, only because Plath and her work are so synonymous with the idea of the “troubled” young woman. Parts of the play seem to try to retroactively treat the depression that plagued Plath while she was alive but do not actually add to the story or the characters.
The message of “Lost Girls” is portrayed most efficiently by its minimalist set design, which consists of a set of black boxes on stage and a ramp into the audience used periodically by the cast. Clever lighting fades split up the scenes and allow breathing room for the heavy themes in the story. However, there are a lot of sound effects, including wind, screams and music, that trample over the dialogue and make story points hard to hear. Considering that much of the storytelling relies on sounds and lighting (as opposed to a lavish set) and is dialogue-based, this created gaps in the rhythm of the play. But because the dialogue so frequently and overbearingly pushed its themes of being against misogyny, not much was missed in the grand scheme of “Lost Girls.”
Nothing about “Lost Girls” is at all subtle or understated in its approach, which in the end hurts the play, considering the themes and situations it attempts to address. Because the characters are defined solely by the traumas they have suffered, and the play promotes the idea of harsh, triggering confrontation as a method of healing, the nuance and real-life implications of the issues is largely lost. Very serious situations are simplified and cheapened in ways that almost devalue them, especially in the production’s unearned downer ending, ways that one would expect to see in bad dramatic television. The play is ambitious in its taking on the burden of portraying many of the most serious issues in society today, but it is ultimately crushed underneath that weight.