14237746_10154137435606107_8396283654901732723_nBy Manning Harris

Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Grant McGowen’s “Girls Life,” running through Oct. 23. Please take note: The version I saw was directed by Mr. McGowen and will run through Oct. 8. A different cast, directed by Michelle Pokopac, will take over on Oct. 13 to complete the run.

“Girls Life” is billed as a comedy, but to me it’s definitely a comedy/drama with the accent on some pretty searing drama. Each cast has four women and two men.

Edward Albee, the great playwright, died last week, and among the accolades that poured in was this one from The New York Times: “His psychologically astute and piercing dramas explored the contentiousness of intimacy, the gap between self-delusion and truth, and the roiling desperation beneath the facade of contemporary life.” London’s “Guardian” commented that Albee believed that “a play that is good to the audience is not necessarily good for the audience.”

I would say that Mr. McGowen, either consciously or unconsciously, is in almost total agreement with these principles. He has assembled a fine cast who are by turns fiery, witty, vulnerable, defensive, and heartbreaking, as they live vignettes of their lives in front of us. Perhaps I should say that the characters demonstrate those qualities, but without these talented actors generously sharing their bodies, voices, and emotions with us, we’d be in a fix.

I want to mention them now, because their performances are indispensable: Diana (Jackie Costello),
Catey (Alyx Libby), Liza (Alexa Staudt), Janie (Christie Vozniak), Alex (Pedro Ferreira), and Jack (Omer Mughal). And I’ll bet I’m not the only audience member to think that the cast coming in on October 8 has their work cut out for them; but my theatre spies tell me they’re excellent also.

One could say that “Girls Life” is a play about angst among the millennials, but that would be too limiting. It’s true that the characters are young people in their 20’s or early 30’s, but the issues they deal with could belong to anyone who is still asking questions, unwilling to settle for conventional happiness. The characters are looking for love in the big city while working through an identity crisis or two.

Playwright McGowen has said he likes writing women in aggressive, masculine roles. He has done this with alacrity. For example, there is a harrowing verbal exchange between Christie Vozniak’s Janie and and Pedro Ferreira’s Alex in which she pretty much takes his head off; she has “the unreasonable fury of a beast,” as Shakespeare said. Since Pinch ‘N’ Ouch is an intimate theatre (which I like) with nobody farther than a few feet from the stage, you really can’t escape the fireworks. I breathed a sigh of relief when this scene ended. There is a lot of anger, even rage, in this play.

But there’s much more. Act II opens with Janie on a yoga mat expounding on life in a long monologue to her friend Diana (Jackie Costello), who’s smoking a cigarette while wearing sunglasses. Finally the very patient Diana deadpans to her friend: “ Lay off the coke, Janie.” That explains a lot.

Even so, Mr. McGowen challenges his actors with some very long monologues which they deliver with remarkable dexterity. And he (McGowen) has a fine gift for believable, fluid dialogue.

This is not a play for kids, by the way: viewer discretion is strongly advised, as the program says.

Some of the women experiment sexually with one another (there are no hard core sex scenes). But one hesitates to call those who do lesbians, because nearly 70 years after the Kinsey report on sexual behavior, many people are finally realizing that human sexuality is infinitely complex; and labeling is usually both counter-productive and fallacious.

“I’m afraid of people not liking me,” Alyx Libby’s Catey confesses. It’s not just an adolescent problem. Another thing that McGowen’s script demonstrates for us is that—wait for it—human happiness does not ultimately come from other people. You have to love yourself first—surprise. Many of the characters here have yet to learn that, or believe it.

I like all the actors; there’s a lot of talent here. I like Omer Mughal’s earnestness and subtlety; I like Jackie Costello’s wit, which is always poised just beneath the surface. I like Pedro Ferreira’s quietness and vulnerability. There’s not a bad apple in this cast.

One thing you won’t be in “Girls Life” is bored. McGowen is holding that old mirror up to human nature, as the Bard advised. He’s not Albee yet, but he’s on his way—to be his own best self.

For tickets and information, visit pnotheatre.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.