"The Girl Detective" is a magical, illogical piece in which robbers dance and a redhead saves the world. But why not?
Review by Ellen Wernecke
"The Girl Detective," a new musical by the Ateh Theater Group now playing at the Connelly Theatre, is a jaunty bit of postmodern fun that doesn't care whether it has a beginning, middle, end or sequential plot. Its source material, a short story of the same name by Kelly Link (her book Stranger Things Happened can be purchased or downloaded here), is usually shelved in the sci-fi/fantasy section, but also taps into Greek mythology, an obsession with list-making and the captivating powers of the Nancy Drew archetype.
The titular heroine is a redheaded (we think) woman of indeterminate age who eats dreams instead of regular food and who is a regular visitor to the underworld. She gets wrapped up in simultaneous mysteries involving a missing wife and a cloud of tap-dancing bandits who leave objects behind in the banks they visit, while the rest of the world tries to figure out who the Girl Detective is. "The Girl Detective has saved the world on at least three separate occasions," confides one would-be expert. "She reminds us of the children we don't have," says another, "the girl we hope to marry someday." And if all that wasn't enough, her mother is still missing and there's a guy in a tree outside her house.
Adapter and director Bridgette Dunlap captures the whimsical spirit of Link's prose and resists the temptation to slot it into a more conventional arrangement. As protagonists go, the girl detective assumes the mantle of both the noirish sexpot and the hard-boiled crime-fighter with a bottle of scotch in the drawer. Ensemble member Kathryn Ekblad stands astride these two seemingly opposed characterizations with grace -- and she even manages to quick-change herself into the chorus for full-stage dance numbers. Choreographer Whitney Stock makes a rich man's daughters swing dance in the underworld and the masked women swirl their skirts in the robberies. And among the unnamed characters Ben Wood, as Guy, is a sympathetic favorite who pines away for the summer he and the Girl Detective had together even as she tells him to take a hike.
I left the theatre wanting to have seen more of the Girl Detective's world (after a spare 75 minutes, a benchmark no Broadway show has ever dared to reach for), a world in which people go out for Chinese takeout and get stuck in the basement instead of going home. It may be a narrow slice of magic, but like all great fairy tales it can be told again and again.
"The Girl Detective"
Connolly Theatre, 220 East 4th St. (between Av. A and Av. B)
Tickets: $15, 212-352-3101 or Theatermania.com
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