ARTS CLUB THEATRE COMPANY, Granville Island Stage, June 15th - July 29th 2017
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Penny Warwick
After reviewing some pretty heavy shows recently, Bittergirl was an absolute delight of fluffy, silly musical dramedy. Classic hits from the 60s and 70s are woven into a feel-good story about three women as they struggle and ultimately succeed in getting over their corresponding bad ex.
It is a small ensemble of four performers, perfectly accompanied by a four piece band who are perched on an upper level of stage. The stage looks like the opening credits from ‘Sex and the City’, a sprawling but in this case non-specific skyline of buildings. The staging is clever and effective, and sets the audience up perfectly for the performance they are about to see.
Each of the performers has a moment to shine in this small cast, with Katrina Reynolds stealing the show on a number of occasions, the yoga on the bed whilst simultaneously stuffing chips in her mouth and slugging wine was a real belly laugh moment. However, it is most magical when the three women come together. The choreography and movement direction in this show is the most precise and well executed of any Arts Club show I have seen. Credit here goes to the excellent direction of Valerie Easton and no doubt the hours of rehearsal that the cast endured perfecting every gesture and look. This is compounded by the rich vocals, each individual with a distinct vocal style but somehow coming together in absolute perfection in the blend. This casting was perfect. Kudos to Musical Director Diane Lines; the vocals throughout, without exception, are on point.
Our only man in the show is Josh Epstein who was last seen as the forelorn Lensky in Onegin – Arts Club’s runaway success of last year – and, as probably one of the biggest fans of Onegin, I found it hilariously jarring watching Epstein take on the difficult task of playing three destinct characters, somehow none of which had an ounce of any redeeming factor. His characature styling of these men plays perfect foil to the women who show more depth of character and emotion. We are led not to empathise with the man, he is the ‘bad guy’ in this heavily female driven show after all.
The script is not perfect, but most of the time gets away with it. The women, who have been in their own separate stories for the entirety of Act I, begin act two drinking tequila together at a bar. There is never any explaination as to how or when these women became friends, which is odd given their lack of interaction in the first act. Also it is a shame that in the jail scene, the choice is that the women start to pick each other apart viciously, and although they come back together in song after this scene, I was left wondering, are they singing individually at the same time? Or are they singing together as friends?
Ultimately, Bittergirl had me laughing, smiling and occasionally cringing, like any good chick flick – and the icing on the cake was the feminist ending of three strong women who do not need a man. Their finale in glittering sequin dress perfection is is also a perfect teaser for Valerie Easton’s next director/choreographer role in Mamma Mia for Arts Clubs 17/18 season.
By Kelly Monkton
Bittergirl is a lovely light show, filled with familiar songs and romantic situations. The name is a bit misleading, for the show deals with three woman who have just been dumped, but they don’t wallow in bitterness by any means. We see them go through many stages, including self-pity, trying to fix the relationship, and self-improvement. Snippets and medleys of songs from "Be My Baby” to “Hot Stuff” are interspersed in the plot, which feels more like a series of vignettes in the first act. The second act sees the three women encouraging and criticizing each other directly, which adds a bit more tension before the ending.
There was so much polish in Bittergirl, it ran the risk of feeling fake, but the performances were fresh and engaging. Highlights were Lauren Bowler’s obsession with cleaning, Katrina Reynolds’ indulgent yoga practices, and Caitlin Stadnyk’s balance of heart and silliness when telling her child about the breakup. They had a couple scenes where they were nearly alternating words in a sentence, and made it feel natural and expressive. Josh Epstein, playing the three different dumpers, had impressive timing and a careful combination of grating and charming moments. All four of the actors sang with strength and ease, and the balance and harmonies were precise. The band, who often sang back-up, ably navigated the abrupt changes, stops, and starts written into Bittergirl. The sharp musicianship was matched by the look of the production. The story glided through simple set and costume changes with style and ease. The choreography, especially for the workout scene, was also tight and fun. Every move, word, and note in the show felt confident and exact without being robotic.
An acquaintance remarked afterward that it wasn’t a particularly deep show, which is fair to say. The story comes close to dealing in stereotypes, but contains enough good will and self-awareness to keep things fresh and kind.
Bittergirl is a great summer romp, and a smart balance for the Arts Club, who have their Million Dollar Quartet production featuring oldies and male performers at the Stanley Theatre. It’s a pleasure to see female-driven stories like this, with women directing and playing the instruments as well. It might not be a meaty story, but Bittergirl is like an exquisite dessert: finely crafted, with great ingredients and artistry, but not too heavy.