When I met Valerie Work ’03 just before the dress rehearsal of her play, “Fighting Frogs vs. Victoria Vanderbilt,” she warned me that one of the biggest mistakes a reviewer can make is to pan a play just because she does not understand it.
Intimidated, I got out my notebook and sat at attention, determined to cull every ounce of meaning from the play. I sat through the middle school “coming of age drama,” anxiously awaiting the punch line. But somewhere in the middle of the minutes-long, uninterrupted “end of the year dance” sequence set to Enrique Iglesias, I realized that moment would never come.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The play, which Work both wrote and directed, may well have had some subtle point that eluded this neophyte critic. The script was not lofty or profound or well-written. It was akin to an attempt to initiate a neo-Judy-Blume movement in American drama. There was the occasional literary flourish (a pervasive “magic wand” motif comes to mind). Unfortunately, the obligatory Yalie attempt at depth does nothing to rescue a play that otherwise does not deviate from the traditional moralizing tale about the new kid who is ostracized and takes revenge, teaching her classmates a lesson about life, love, and how it’s okay to be different.
There is not a single character in this play whom you haven’t already seen in a Molly Ringwald movie. The three cheerleaders with their requisite rhyming names, the one jock they’re all after, the Dog-Collared Freak, and the Kooky Unstable Teacher all show up. The stars of the show are the Urbane Sophisticated New Girl, the Strong-Willed Tomboy, and the Good-Hearted Earnest Narrator (cf. Kevin in “The Wonder Years”).
Although the actors make a valiant effort to lend life to these caricatures, there just is not much left to be said on the subject of middle school cruelty. The cast’s cheerful way of dealing with a script entirely devoid of merit was the only aspect of “Frogs” that made the hour and 45-minute ordeal bearable. To deliver the play’s lines without blushing must have taken all the acting talent the cast could muster.
David Friedlander ’05 is particularly charming and natural as Sam, the narrator, and Julia Frederick ’05 convincingly balances the title character’s snobbery and vulnerability. Despite some awkward moments, Kat Kunz ’03 also makes the best of the particularly uninteresting character of Wally, Sam’s best friend and Victoria’s nemesis.
The cast has obviously rehearsed well and nailed the complicated blocking, but no amount of precision or multimedia savvy (the play uses recorded music and a film) could redeem this script. The characters often stood in dark spots on the stage, and the set, which consisted mainly of neon posters, left much to be desired, but these technical problems did not detract from the viewing experience, which consisted mainly of plugging one’s ears against the constant high-pitched shrieking of the cheerleaders and waiting for it all to end.