Four young girls who have all come to live in a state-run home under different circumstances grapple with the death of Amber, their friend and housemate whose suicide rocks their already unstable lives.
Written by Kira Rockwell, The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood is a mixed bag of acutely drawn characters full of wit and perception who get bogged down by a script that turns melodramatic and more emotionally manipulative than it needs to be.
But this world-premiere production, directed by Leila Ghaemi, is acted by a first-rate quintet of young actresses whose performances are utterly convincing and (almost) profoundly moving.
Charlie (Tatiana Chavez) had an extra special bond with Amber (a remarkable Sarah Hirsch), an already emotionally unstable girl whose spiral is ignited by both her discovery of her birth mother’s identity and the realization that her biological mother wants no part of her life. Charlie may have even been falling for Amber, which is part of the reason why she is taking her suicide harder than the others.
Mercy, played by a dynamic Danielle Palmer, has just found out that she’s about to be released back into the care of her parents; her mother seems to have reconciled with her abusive father, and he’ll be coming to pick Mercy up in about a week, which gives Mercy plenty of time to plan her escape with her friends.
The street-smart Audi (Stephanie Castillo) has been around a block a few times in her 16 years but has actively tried to keep her record clean so that she can one day adopt her younger sister, Izzy (Amanda Figueroa). The girls want to help Mercy not have to go back home to her abusive father: Charlie offers her estranged aunt’s Oklahoma couch and Audi suggests that all she has to do is find a sugar daddy. “Desperate times call for hoochie measures,” Marcy jokes.
Even though the girls fight like sisters, they’re a family, whether they admit it or not. They’ve landed in foster care for different reasons—death, neglect, abuse—and although they haven’t experienced much kindness, they’ve survived, even if none of them knows what comes next.
For The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood to reach its full potential, Rockwell must figure out whether she wants her play to be about the inherited pain and suffering of women, as the bizarre ending suggests, or about the struggle of young girls born into a world of cruelty who—above all else—need to find it in their hearts to love themselves.