Don’t be fooled: Kids’ theatre can really pack an emotional punch
by Jenna Rocca
The Invisible Girl is a poignant and charming look at peer pressure and bullying. It’s pretty meditative and psychologically driven for a children’s show, and the fact that it’s a one-woman show is already a pretty clear obstacle to keeping a group of fifth graders’ attention sustained for over 40 minutes. But it succeeds.
Amy Lee plays Ali with vulnerability and force which makes for some great physical comedy but also some scary internal conflicts. Michele Riml ‘s challenging piece follows Ali over the course of a week, over which she must make some serious choices on her path to independence.
She is a part of a super-fifth-grade clique called “the Ultimates,” the coolest and prettiest girls in school who rank and rate everything, particularly body parts. Each member represents her best feature; Ali is the eyes. These are combined to establish the ultimate face of all, thus the name. How sad that they cannot be ideals that stand alone, and are only as good as the sum of their parts, or so they think…
Enter Dolores – or FD, as they have dubbed her, since “you can’t say fat in school anymore.” Nobody really knows much about her, or cares to. But secretly, Ali knows that she has the most incredible singing voice and impulsively nominates her as the solo-singer in a class presentation. She immediately regrets it, as the Ultimates exile her, forcing her to befriend FD and enter the world of the Invisible Kids.
Delivered from in and around Ali’s closet, her story is illustrated with the use of clothing that represents each character. How appropriate that these characters are all invisible on the stage, hanging ghost-like on hangers? But Lee brings all of them, as well as a train, to life with adorable fervour.
For each day that passes in the story, Lee drags a pair of undies labelled correspondingly on a hanger across the closet rack, pausing, saying the day of the week – “Tuesday” – demonstratively, with hilarious intensity. By Friday the audience and I were still laughing. It seemed to be everyone’s favourite gag, and rightly so.
As riotous as it could be, the Invisible Girl charts some serious territory, sometimes leaving the children in the audience a bit restless. However, Lee seems used to this, and just raises her voice, already thinned out to a child-like pitch, to maintain command of the kids.
One of the smartest aspects of the production in complementing Lee’s performance, was the incorporation of multimedia. Projections are often flashed against the closet doors, and back wall in the form of tweets that illustrate key dialogue in abbreviated lolspeak. This was part of the masterful display of lighting design by Kimberly Purtell.
One of the students in the audience asked afterwards if the star rug that Ali performed from rug “glows.” Indeed it did seem to do so at certain emotional points, when the soundscapes of spooky and playful dingily music, and mournful vocal pieces (representing Dolores’s bewitching voice) punctuate Ali’s realization of terrifying realities.
I’ve never been to a production by The Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People before, but after this I am eager to go back. Unfortunately all the performances that seemed to be available were only during the day, obviously to reach their target audience of classrooms. But I was astonished by the calibre of this work, and the challenging content being presented to young kids. While some of it might have gone over some of their heads, I think its important to keep young people exposed to important issues that face them even if they don’t fully understand them yet.
If you know any impressionable young people, bring them to a show at this theatre. While The Invisible Girl completed its brief run on October 23, I wish they would do a bit of an extension so I can bring a young friend of mine to see it. I know it would resonate strongly.
Photo of Amy Lee as Ali by Iden Ford Photography