Dani Girl written by hot New York playwrights plays at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille
Written by Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman, a duo who has been dubbed some of the hottest up-and-coming writers in New York, Dani Girl tells the story of a nine year old girl battling leukemia. It is set entirely in a hospital, and in Dani’s imagination (played by Gabi Epstein), as she struggles to understand cancer and overcome the disease. While in the hospital, she meets and befriends Marty, a young boy played by Jonathan Logan, who Dani likes to refer to solely as Meriwether. A fact which she learns from snatching up his hospital chart like any nine-year-old would do when curious and impatient for information.
Dani Girl is ultimately a musical that centres around Dani’s question to figure out, “Why is cancer?” Her hope is that by figuring this out, her hair (that has fallen out from her chemotherapy treatments) will grow back and thus she will beat the disease. Her rationale: girls with beautifully French braided hair that has been dyed and teased can’t die. It illustrates a nine-year-old’s logic yet at the same time presents a question that I imagine many people faced with cancer probably ask themselves at some point.
Although this musical is largely about how two nine-year-old children react when faced with death, I think their coping mechanisms are very universal and can be mirrored in adult behaviour. Dani deals with death by using her imagination to dream up fantastical games and adventures that often involve her guardian angel, Rafe. Marty deals with death by watching movies. He likes to get lost in films and focuses on heroes because heroes never die or cry. However, we see another type of coping mechanism through Dani’s mother who is played by Amanda LeBlanc. She copes with her daughter’s hospital stays and progression of disease by constantly praying for a miracle.
Epstein does an incredible job of portraying a nine-year-old girl, down to the expressions and attitudes one would expect of a child of that age. But it was Jeff Madden, the actor who plays Dani’s guardian angel Rafe, who steals the show. He did an incredible job of making the audience howl with laughter in what could have otherwise been a very heavy play.
My companion and I agreed that the best part of the play was when he pretended to be a Latino drug dealer, belting out a hilarious rap about different types of real and imagined drugs. He finished by accusing Dani of having some serious misconceptions about the Latino community which was just the icing on the cake of an amazingly funny scene.
Dani Girl deals with a dark and morbid subject matter surprisingly well. It has enough cheerful songs to help offset the wholly depressing theme of the story and enough comic relief to be thoroughly enjoyable. It features an extraordinarily talented cast who really make this production special. In a way, it reminded me a lot of how Rent dealt with AIDS; it took a deep and scary disease and presented it in an uplifting manner that left the audience with a very important take home message. I’m sure you can guess at what that message might be, but if you can make it out to Dani Girl, you’ll know for certain.
– Dani Girl is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson St) until March 4, 2012
– Shows run Wednesday to Sunday at 7:30pm with additional matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
– Ticket prices are $33
– Tickets are available online or at 416-504-7529
Photo by Susan Benoit