Review: Vertigo’s ‘Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls’

Theatre Vertigo bids adieu to Theater! Theatre! with a strongly performed, if incongruous, snowglobe of a show. Thru June 8

By Jonathan Frochtzwajg May 19, 2013

In the final scene of Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls, Theatre Vertigo's last production in the Theater! Theatre! Space, one character, Derek, gifts another, Vivian, a snowglobe in which a pair of hula girls wave aloha amid a wintry Hawaiian landscape. The englobed scene is incongruous, even ridiculous—but something about that ridiculousness, something in the way the hula girls beckon, keeps Derek and Vivian gazing into the small, staged world.

Aloha, written by Naomi Iizuka and directed for Vertigo by New York's Jen Wineman, is not so different. The fragmented, surreal portrayal of youth angst has no small number of problems with its script, but the play's sense of humor and experimental structure, along with dynamic performances from the Vertigo cast, keep us looking on.

The play begins in New York, where nine loosely connected twentysomethings (plus one dog) are all, in one way or another, experiencing drastic changes in their lives and/or having quarterlife crises. Vivian's long-term boyfriend abruptly announces he's fallen in love with somebody else. Wendy gets a temp gig at a pet store, but tells anybody who'll listen that her other, more real self is an actress. Even the dog is confused; after being set loose and seeming to transform into a human, he wonders aloud, ears askew, what he is: “Am I a man? Or am I dog? Or am I dog who thinks I'm a man who thinks I'm a dog?”

As it follows its characters on their wandering journeys to improbable destinations in Hawaii and Alaska, Aloha itself too frequently wanders into self-indulgent navel-gazing. In the play's first half, when the New York setting is echoed in a frenetic pace, no character can feel sorry for herself long enough to bore the audience, but post-intermission, when the play transplants our protagonists to the stagnant beaches of Hawaii and tundras of Alaska, their self-pity, unfortunately for us, gets more stage time. In one scene, wise, nurturing Myrna gives Derek, of the snowglobe, some sugar cookies. “I love the kind with sprinkles,” he says. “But wait, don't you see? I have problems! I have deep, unsolvable problems!” “Shh,” Myrna responds. “Don't talk, OK? Just eat your cookies.” Our feelings exactly.

Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls
Theatre Vertigo
Theater! Theatre!
Thru Jun 8

Much of Iizaka's dialogue takes the form of a rant, and as in any good rant, there are pearls of wisdom amid the rambling. Aloha doesn't offer many answers to the many questions it poses, but then, life itself isn't so good in the answers department. At any rate, Iizaka's rants are often very funny, showcasing her firm command of language and flair for the absurd. Too, the playwright's avant-garde, fluid handling of time and space, which might feel disjointed if not for her smart use of recurring props, is stimulating, and director Wineman's uber-minimal staging suits it well.

Vertigo's cast gives strong, energetic performances all around, embracing their characters' particular absurdities without reserve. Especially good are Britt Harris, as the maternal but vaguely phony Myrna; Beth Thompson, as sensual Wendy; and—no joke—the guy who plays the dog, Tyler Ryan. Even in Aloha's meandering moments, these actors' all-in embodiment of their characters keeps the audience peering into this strange snowglobe of a show.

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