This reviewer first heard of FanGirls while attending Planet ComicCon in Kansas City earlier this year. SInce that time, they have been looking forward to it, as it is based on a topic very near and dear to this reviewer’s heart. The marginalizing of female voices in the genre communities (that is, scifi/fantasy, superheroes, etc) has a long and inglorious history, and steps to address it are only lately being taken, and these tentative. Jessie Salsbury’s play (adapted from her previous one-woman show, we understand) is a shout in the wilderness, fed up and determined to make itself heard.
The story follows four friends as they wander through a comic con, in search of a good time but increasingly unable to find it. Bex (Sarah Neary), increasingly annoyed at the lack of female action figures, harangues dealers who shrug and say they don’t stock figures of Rey (from the new Star Wars) because they didn’t think there would be any demand. After all, who would want a toy depicting the primary protagonist of the biggest science fiction film of last year? Ellie and Sophie (Lindsay Hinman and Sierra Berry) try to keep their friend calm, while towing along comicon newbie Otto (Manu Ajmani), a non-geek who is along primarily because his father is connected with the venue.
They move from set piece to set piece, deploring the lack of girl-oriented toys, wincing at scantily-clad drawings in physically impossible poses, seeing women on panels be talked over again and again (a phenomenon to which this reviewer can personally attest). Finally they get to the point where they have had enough, and devise a plan to make their displeasure known, once and for all.
Watching the play, one did wonder if it was perhaps a little too insular as far as the culture it was discussing. Otto’s character was useful for providing a sort of window for those in the audience not involved in the cosplay/fancon worlds, and perhaps might have been employed a little more for that purpose. Characterization was light, with a reliance on archetypes. There wasn’t much storyline until at the very ending, when things necessarily began to pick up the pace.
It seems to this reviewer that the fundamental problem here is the sheer amount of material to cover. There are so many aspects of what’s going on re: women in fandom that you could easily get bogged down going into the different aspects of each. When there’s only an hour of time allotted to get your message across, it becomes an extremely difficult task.
How to resolve this? Difficult to say. Perhaps by focusing in on one particular aspect, though which would be a real question. When one is suffering the death by a thousand cuts, you can’t always decide which cut is the one that kills. But in the end, this is something that needs to be heard, that needs to be discussed. Salsbury and her cast have put together a compelling, if somewhat uneven, cry in the wilderness, one which this reviewer hopes she will continue and refine into something that reaches as many eyes and ears–and minds–as possible.