Growing Pretty, making its world premiere at the Purple Rose, is a coming-of-age (and going-a-little-past) story of a young artist. Its theme is remarkably underutilized, and the playwright, first-timer Carey Crim, deserves extra points for either reinventing it or stealing it from Willa Cather's Song of the Lark, another story that derives most of its power from what it's not about. How often do you see a story of a woman that is rich with romance and yet doesn't ultimately revolve around her romantic choices?
Lucy (Stacie Hadgikosti) spends a large part of her time onstage in a deeply complex love affair with her mentor, which eventually ends, leaving her neither victimized nor hardened. She's not torn between irreconcilable longings for family and career. As the play ends, she is entering middle age with grace and satisfaction at where her art has taken her, and we have no idea what state her romantic life is in. This story arc is an odd and lopsided one for women, bucking the Jane Austen rule that a young woman's romantic choices will determine the course of her life. The final scene strikes with a kind of stealth brilliance when you find out that Growing Pretty is not a play about How I Met My Husband, or Why I Can Never Love Again. It's a play about struggle and reward in other realms.
Hadgikosti wears the role as if it's welded to her bare skin, and she grabs you from the opening monologue. When the curtain rises, she's sitting cross-legged on a bare stage, clearly preparing to address the audience for a while. It's a tough gig to pull off, like starting a song on high C, but she has an openness and directness that make her irresistibly watchable even when she's on stage alone.
The script is perhaps a bit loaded with nuclear-family-dysfunction big-ticket items: depression, dead siblings, absent father, infidelity. It helps that Lucy's story is coupled to real events — the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, Tiananmen Square, Jack Kevorkian, the rise of Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton — which tether her to a recognizable world, because it's not always clear what meaning Crim was trying to tease out of the unhappy family history. Lucy does grow pretty: when she pulls off a hoodie she convincingly transforms herself from chubby twelve-year-old to resplendent young adult, and the change owes a lot to the effective costume design of Meghann O'Malley Powell. The fluid, simple production is directed by Michelle Mountain and rounded out with a solid ensemble including Grant Krause, Michael Brian Ogden, and Rhiannon Ragland.
Growing Pretty continues its two-month run through May 31, Wednesdays through Sundays plus two Tuesdays, May 6 and 27.
[Review published May 2008]