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Camp Wanatachi

Krystina Alabado and Marissa O'Donnell deliver dynamic performances in this musical about two teenagers who fall in love at an all-girls Christian summer camp. logo
Marissa O'Donnell and Krystina Alabado
in Camp Wanatachi
(© Ian Pai)
If you're looking for something a bit off the beaten path, Camp Wanatachi, at La MaMa E.T.C. features two dynamic lead performances. But the show's script and score are less engaging, undercutting the effectiveness of Matt Cowart's production.

The plot centers on young teenager Jana (Marissa O'Donnell), who has been coming to the same Christian all-girls summer camp since she was in the second grade. But the arrival of new girl Titi (Krystina Alabado) and the onset of puberty combine to make this year's experience very different.

Titi is the prototypical "bad girl," and the object of both envy and scorn from other campers. At 14, she has already had several sexual experiences as she rather raunchily -- and amusingly -- details in her solo, "You Gotta Use Spit." Alabado plays the role with a sexy bravado, but also lets us see the more vulnerable side to the character, whose outer confidence disguises an eating disorder and a rocky relationship with her mother and stepfather.

O'Donnell occasionally telegraphs her intentions too broadly, but she has an earnest wistfulness that helps to ground the character, and is capable of belting out a note that electrifies one of the show's stronger songs.

The main creative force behind the musical is Natalie Elizabeth Weiss, who wrote the music and lyrics, co-wrote the book, and plays camp counselor Corky. There are a few good songs scattered throughout the score, particularly a duet between Jana and Titi that leads into their first kiss. However, the electronic music by Machinedrum (aka Travis Stewart) threatens to overwhelm the proceedings at times, and while Weiss seems to be playing around with dissonance as a thematic motif, the result does not always make for a very satisfying musical experience.

The libretto, written with playwright Bekah Brunstetter, struggles to find the balance between send-up and sincerity, as do Weiss' lyrics. Some scenes seem designed to poke fun at the campers and their beliefs, while others seem to promote a kind of New Age approach to Christianity as Jana struggles to reconcile her faith with her desires.

The supporting cast members -- including Jana's best friend, Lauren (Keaton Whittaker), goth girl Daisy (Alyse Alan Louis), and counselor Joel from the nearby boys' camp (Thom Miller) -- are paper-thin constructs that help advance the plot and provide conflict, but do little else.

Additionally, the musical's conclusion comes across as contrived, and the entire show could benefit from a more nuanced exploration of the intersection of teenage sexuality, lesbianism, and Christianity.

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