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From Yard Gal
Two of the most difficult things to accomplish, dramatically, are establishing a friendship and having characters who are not willingly introspective hold forth about their feelings. Yard Gal, Rebecca Grisham's action-packed yet achingly tender play about two best friends on the East London streets getting high, shoplifting, clubbing, and hanging out, manages to carry off both those feats and more, in MCC's newest import from Clean Break/The Royal Court Theatre.

The play opens with Boo (Shannon Duncan-Brewster) and Marie (Amelia Lowdell), our two yard gals--or yard gal wanna-bees--bursting onstage in slick track pants and hysterical laughter. (The phrase "yard gal", according to the program glossary, refers to the girlfriend of a drug dealer.) Boo and Marie announce that they are going to do a play, and after some hemming and hawing, begin their story, a seamless blend of narration and re-enactment, peppered with witty imitations. They tell about their first encounter with one another, which started with a fist fight and led to their becoming "best friends from time"; about the girls in their posse; and about events that, despite the girls' upbeat prose, you dread.

The girls' friendship is intricate, complex, and utterly true to life. For one thing, it's hard to pin down just who has the clout. Boo interrupts the initial laughter the play's opening moments to snarl at Marie, "What you lookin' at me for?" Yet Boo has a soft spot for Marie--at one point she relates lovingly how when Marie's shooting-up gives her fits, she has to make space on the dance floor to hold Marie in her lap. Boo adds wistfully as she describes the scene, "But she didn't have a fit that night." The care she takes for Marie, that night and others, is emblematic of the pattern of friend-loyalty and gang-vengeance that ultimately spells disastrous for the two.

Throughout the play, however, the question nags: Who are they telling this to, and why? No concrete answer is offered, but a hint is suggested. Toward the end of the play, when the girls are separated, Boo throws a detail into the narrative and Marie looks up in surprise. "You didn't tell me that," she says. It then dawns that telling the story is the girls' way of connecting with each other. They're telling it as the selves they were with each other, as their best selves, and to the one person, of the billions, who understands. For 90 minutes, they get to be with that person.

When the lights go down, however, the audience is left with the agonizing truth that, outside of these shimmering moments in told to a black-box of the mind, Boo and Marie never get to be those best selves again. And we see their disintegration. Where the girls once communicated in an effortless, pick-up-where-you-left-off-last-night banter (which Prichard carries off brilliantly), toward the end they must resort in their discomfort to the ho-hum adult "How are you doing?" It is painful.
The play's one shortcoming is that it doesn't fully convey the dead-ended-ness of the lives of actual yard gals. In part this is because the characters are played by, well, actresses. Upstage portraits, only visible in the house lights, capture
From Yard Gal
the faces we do pass in the street and might ignore or avoid. They are puffy, unkempt, and quite unlike Duncan-Brewster and Lowdell, who are immaculate and fierce in their track pants and sneakers, toned in skimpy turquoise and Pepto-pink clubbing outfits.

Yard Gal is a close enough version of the real thing though to spark thoughts of: Where can we intervene? The system has clearly been absent for the girls on so many levels, and when they finally come under its radar, they are so jaded by program-speak that they are all but closed to its help. It's stunning, in fact, how ignorant they seem about the misfortune of their conditions, and how recklessly they reproduce them. Marie, for example, who has been abused by her father, reports with pride about "spitting and throwing shit" at the girls (like Boo) from the kids' home. Boo in turn marvels at Marie's easy ability to separate things: After one of many tragedies, she remarks with admiration on Marie's quick recovery, "She was like a split personality." The currency here is split or--like the dance club's nightly knifing victims--be split.

Enclosed in the play's program is information about the co-producer, Clean Beak, a British initiative that offers a creative outlet for ex-offenders. The play has no obligation to suggest a possible pre-prison intervention for Boo and Marie, and neither does it directly point a finger at the forces most directly responsible for the social ills. (Certainly it establishes the allure of the clubbing-and-drugging life.) However, the feeling of helplessness Yard Gal engenders is frustrating, if realistic.

The performances of Duncan-Brewster and Lowdell are, like the friends themselves, mutually enhancing. Duncan-Brewster's Boo can be tough as nails, but opens up with the confessional style of a poet and manages to make it ring utterly true. Lowdell as Marie embodies beautifully the contradictory figure of one who is vulnerable yet ruthless. The direction of Gemma Bodinetz, who directed Shopping and F**king two seasons ago at New York Theatre Workshop, works hand-in-hand with Prichard's script. She makes the numerous transitions from reflection to action truly breathtaking. Es Devlin and David Korin's set, four movable metal milk-crates, contain all the props the girls need, and so serve as an elegant metaphor for their transient existence. Frances Aronson's lighting scheme sets an effective backdrop for the play's shifts in tone, and Bruce Ellman's apropos club music keeps our blood pumping along with the characters'.

MCC, which brought us the original production of 1999's Pulitzer Prize-winner, Wit, has another strong piece of drama here. As Boo says yearningly of Marie at the end of the play, "Some people, they stay inside you...she's always somewhere in my mind." The same could be said of Yard Gal.

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