Too rarely are girls taken seriously. Too quickly are their concerns brushed off as unimportant, their behavior mocked as petulant, their opinions dismissed as trivial. Too frequently are they made to feel powerless as they move through their preteen and teenage years, and too often must girls of color, facing multiple layers of prejudice, battle outright invisibility. When we laugh away the worries, the ideas, the modes of expression of even one girl’s coming-of-age story, what do we miss? An odyssey.
Ming Peiffer’s Usual Girls, which you will be seeing in the coming week at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, brings one such odyssey to the stage with awe-inspiring honesty. Usual Girls follows Kyeoung, a Korean-American girl growing up in Ohio, who along the road from the elementary school playground to the college dormitory must contend with a host of strangers and peers alike who would easily belittle her for her gender or her race to bolster their own self-esteem or feed their own libido. Whether at age 8, age 18, or age 28, the dangers she faces are real. But so are the courage she displays, the resolve she maintains, and the triumph she celebrates. A far cry from a series of trifles to shrug away, her expedition into young adulthood contains all the adversity, all the joy, all the trauma, and all the conquest of a Greek epic. Perhaps this is why Usual Girls feels at once heartbreakingly true to life and effortlessly larger than it.
Usual Girls began its journey with Roundabout as part of our Underground Reading Series back in 2017, and we have been working closely with Ming and director Tyne Rafaeli to workshop and develop the piece ever since. Much about the play has changed in that time, but what has remained the same is Ming’s valiant and unfailing commitment to truth. She eschews stereotype for specificity, complacency for complexity, and comfort for harsh reality. She tackles the sweeping generalizations that would reduce girlhood to a monolith and shatters them into a mosaic of individual experience. The result is an explosive, thrilling, no-holds-barred whirlwind of theatricality. I cannot wait for you to see this bold and captivating show, brought to life by such a magnificent cast and creative team.
Now in its 12th year of giving emerging writers their New York debuts, the Roundabout Underground program has achieved a stunning degree of success since launching with Stephen Karam’s Speech & Debate in 2007. In the years since their Underground productions, all 14 alumni have gone on to fruitful writing careers, whether for the stage or for the screen. Over the past three seasons alone, three of these alumni have made their Broadway debuts: Stephen Karam (The Humans, 2016 Tony Award® for Best Play and Finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize); Joshua Harmon (Significant Other); and Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen, 2017 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical). Both The Humans and Significant Other began in our Laura Pels Theatre, just upstairs of the Black Box at the Steinberg Center. In addition, Underground alumna Lindsey Ferrentino made her debut at the National Theatre in London in spring 2017 with her play Ugly Lies the Bone, which premiered here in the Underground in 2015. I am so pleased to watch as our relationships with the Underground writers have grown over the years and given rise to such magnificent successes at Roundabout and beyond.
As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts on our season, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!
2018-2019 Season, Usual Girls