Fringe review: Drunk Girl

Thea Fitz-James in Drunk Girl. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Drunk Girl (Stage 13, Old Strathcona Public Library)

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“Carpe diem!” beams the high-spirited woman before us, presiding over a selection of bottles. 

In the well-stocked repertoire of cautionary tales with sadder-but-wiser chasers, Thea Fitz-James’ solo show isn’t just one for the road. Drunk Girl, it turns out, is a smart, challenging show that doesn’t just sip the risky high-test stuff (and spit it out when no one’s looking), but declares bottom’s up.

The Fringe is full of solo shows that allude to complexity and cultural contradictions. Drunk Girl actually takes them on — in surprising ways that don’t include resolving them. It’s brave and kind of feisty that way.

“Let’s take a gander, shall we?” grins Fitz-James, charismatic and cordial, as she flips open her yearbook. She’s funny. And we’re with her on that classic threshold of maximum possibility: For a small-town Quebec girl and her classmates, “probable destination” is  mostly “anywhere but here.”  

In the course of Drunk Girl, amusement — she calls it “nostalgic whimsy” — turns to disappointment, underscored by a rage that masquerades as high spirits but is more like profound sadness.

It’s charted in a steady escalation of onstage drinks, and ever more expansive annotations, as our college-girl protagonist and her party-girl alter-ego come up, time and time again, from different angles, against something confounding  and irreducible. The fun that empowers you, as a young woman out to participate on equal footing in the world, also penalizes you.

“I am the queen of Ladies’ Night!” declares the party girl who drinks with her friends because she can (and why shouldn’t she since boys can and do and will?). “Alcohol is my fuckin’ revolution!” The professional grad who doesn’t drink at conferences — except white wine, which doesn’t really count, right? — invokes Kafka, and “conceptual” drinking games.

The alter-egos come together in a terrible moment, where only the feeling of violation is unequivocal. “No is an extraordinarily complicated word when you’re drunk,” she says.

Fitz-James has such an easy, amiable instant rapport with the audience that you almost don’t realize the high-risk zones into which Drunk Girl sallies forth. One is an audience-participation chug-a-lug that seems to startle even the performer. The other — and this is only partly successful I think — is the summing up by the playwright.

Certainly she’s earned it. She’s done the research, and presented chunks of it, too. But the show is perhaps vivid and strong enough on its own to just leave us with its provocative, combative ideas and the poetry that surrounds them.

“Sometimes I feel like the Titanic — big, beautiful, too big to fail….” She is. 

As seen at the Winnipeg Fringe. 

  

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