Though Justin Tanner’s Teen Girl features some of the wackiness of his Space Therapy and Oklahomo, it is at heart the story of a teen girl’s awakening to the possibilities of love.

The teen girl in question is Susan (Zoe Perry), a cute-ish but awkward high school girl living in Salinas, California in the late 1970s. It’s two weeks before graduation, prom is about to happen, and the yearbook is newly out. To her best friend Tricia (Audrey Siegel), a budding beauty and clearly the more popular of the two, Susan bemoans her senior picture (she looks like a chipmunk) and the fact that she’s not in any group pics or quad shots. When Tricia tells Susan, “This should be the happiest time of your life,” Susan responds (and many in the audience can certainly empathize), “I hope that’s not true.”

With Susan still dateless to the prom, Tricia suggests that she consider going with Dennis (Cody Chappel), a classmate who likes Susan a lot, and more than just as a friend.  “He’s a little skinny,” comments Audrey dryly, “but that can be a cute look too.”

Susan’s mom is away in Las Vegas, which gives Tricia a brilliant idea. “You have to have people over!” she enthuses, though with the liquor cabinet locked, they’ll need to find some way to get alcohol.

The perfect solution to this dilemma soon materializes in the person of Mary (Chloe Taylor), Susan’s punk ex-babysitter, back in Salinas after a stay in L.A. which included long afternoons at Hollywood triple-features where she’d score some heroin and buy a bucket of popcorn to throw up in. When Susan expresses shock at this, Tricia knowingly informs her, “Grow up. That’s what you do.” Mary has broken up with her L.A. drug pusher boyfriend Rafa (“He was always accusing me of stealing his stash or his money … and it was true.”) and has a new punk love in tow, Pete (Guilford Adams).  

Since Mary is of drinking age and without a place to stay (When her parents wouldn’t let her in, “I was like, ‘Hey parents.  Fuck you!’”), her arrival couldn’t be better timed, says Tricia. Mary can get some rum (and pot), Tricia will invite Dennis over, and Susan can get devirginized.


Teen Girl is straight out of the 1980s John Hughes oeuvre, with Susan a sister in spirit to Molly Ringwald’s Pretty In Pink Andie, though Taylor plays her more deadpan in a thoroughly winning and totally real performance. Taylor shows us Susan’s sensible girl surface as well as her awkwardness and her deeper longings for love and acceptance.

She is matched by Siegel’s popular Tricia, who wants to see her best friend coupled with Dennis, just so long as Tricia remains queen bee. It comes as no surprise that a game of “let’s all tell the truth about each other” should end up in a cat fight between best friends (and a very funny one at that).

Much of Teen Girl’s success comes from its casting, and like Taylor and Siegel, Chappel is just right as Dennis, with his straight out of the 70s long hair, quirky/cute looks, and charming mix of shyness and teen horniness.

Like Dennis, Taylor’s Mary is period perfect with teased bleach blonde hair, heavy black eyeliner, fishnet stockings, and boots.  Taylor has Mary’s tough chick attitude down pat.

Adams is hilarious as Mary’s tattooed punk boyfriend Pete, who arrives with a black eye, a 12-pack of beer (“Nobody better drink any of them!”), and a purpose (“Mary, let’s find a bedroom.”).

Completing the cast is the always fabulous Johanna McCay as next door neighbor Mrs. Burns, who arrives to check up on Susan, wine glass and bottle in hand. McCay, fresh from her riveting performance in My Thing Of Love, proves herself both comedienne and physical comedian, scarcely able to stay on the chaise longue after a few glasses of vino and with the unfortunate habit of bumping into sliding glass doors. 

Playwright Tanner has a way with dialog, many laughs arising from the unexpected, as in this exchange about a girl’s first time:
Susan: I heard it makes you crazy and the guy won’t call you afterwards.
Mary:  Well, that’s true.

Tanner has also created very real, three-dimensional teen characters (this is certainly the most believable of the three Tanner plays I’ve seen), and no wonder; he’s written for both My So-Called Life and Gilmore Girls. If there’s anything to quibble about, it’s that at just 70 minutes, Teen Girl is certainly a funny and sometimes quite touching slice of teen life but not quite a complete play. 

Director Matt Roth keeps the performances believable, and many of the laughs come from the cast’s matter-of-fact line readings, rather than from going for the joke.

The backyard set designed by Gary Guidinger (who grew up in suburban Covina) couldn’t be better, with its walls that look like real stucco, wood fence, hard-to-shut sliding glass doors, patio furniture including picnic table and benches, and hanging outdoor lights.  (Guidinger also designed the lighting.) Costumes are uncredited, but perfect for each character.

The outrageously wacky Space Therapy and Oklahomo didn’t prepare me for Teen Girl’s sweetness and very real characters.  Though more a collection of scenes than a fully realized play, it is nonetheless a charming and funny piece of writing, wonderfully performed, and a trip down memory lane for those who enjoyed Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Valley Girl, and other teen classics of the era.

Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood. 

–Steven Stanley
May 29, 2008
Photos: Ed Krieger

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