By David Flapan
I remember enjoying “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” as both my first real novel (one without pictures), and the first that I just couldn’t put down, back in my late single digit years. I read most of Judy Blume’s books after that, and always treasured the experiences. It was with a similar warm feeling that “What Every Girl Should Know...An Ode to Judy Blume” is staged at the Annoyance Theater.
Relating the stories of three of Blume’s novels, this show lovingly harkens back to our pre-teen years. Fans of Blume’s work will recognize many of the scenes, those unfamiliar with her works will recognize many of the scenes anyway from their own teenhood.
“I have always looked back fondly at these books,” said Susan Messing, the show’s director. Needing just 4 months to bring the show from concept to stage, the 3-time director has done so dazzlingly. Adapting these books for a live stage show was a huge challenge, and the 34-year-old Messing has met it admirably, along with co-adapter Mary Scruggs. Incorporating breakthrough techniques to illustrate the books’ first person viewpoint, and to portray the characters’ thoughts by depiction, are some of the fresh theatrical devices to which the audience is treated. More than the entire stage space is used generously, and this adds to the luster of the illusion of being present in the lives of these protagonists. The show is paced rather quickly, as there are no intermissions, or even blackouts. “As an audience member, I hate sitting in the dark, as I am sure most people do,” opined Messing, “so we go straight through without blackouts.” This occassionally leads to some characters overlapping with each other, but those situations are also handled in an innovative method.
The Annoyance Theater has been a Chicago theater staple for almost two decades. It received perhaps its best exposure when, in 1992, it staged a retelling of a famous 70s sitcom, entitled “The Real Live Brady Bunch,” in which the veteran Messing played Cindy Brady.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” “Deenie,” and “Forever” are the books that Messing has chosen to interpret. She chose these books because, frankly, “they were the ones I liked the most.”
Noting that most of Blume’s books were written in the 70s, not to mention the fact this decade is when the director grew up, “What Every Girl Should Know...” takes place in that era, which is most evident in the costuming, also superbly bringing out the characters' oeuvre.
The Northwestern University Theater graduate is very pleased with the show’s success. “We have sold out every performance,” exclaimed Messing. The show is scheduled to close November 7th. Naturally, most want it to be extended, but that actually depends on a certain author.
“Judy Blume has written to us to say that she wants to come and see it before she gives her blessing for the show’s extension,” explained Messing.
“What Every Girl Should Know” is a relatively little show that accomplishes a lot. It brings back memories, it tells stories, it illustrates viewpoints to which everyone, of both sexes and all ages, should at some time be enlightened. It does so in a way that treats the original books with respect and tenderness. Judy Blume should find nothing to object to.
“What Every Girl Should Know...An Ode to Judy Blume” is playing at The Annoyance Theater, 3747 N. Clark Street, through November 7th (so far), on Fridays, at 8:30pm, $10. For more info, call them at 773-929-6200.