When the lights come up on the set of Girlish, the first thing you notice is pink. Pink chairs, pink rugs, pink bedsheets. Pillows and clothes are strewn all about, and the pink bookshelves are filled with the familiar bucktoothed faces of American Girl dolls. It looks like the bedroom most girls wish they had when they were nine. But it’s actually the bedroom of Windy (Walker Caplan), a gangly, awkward fifteen-year-old girl who happens to run a wildly popular American Girl doll instagram account.
Written by Alexa Derman ‘18, Girlish is a raw and touching portrait of girlhood, growing up, and growing apart. The play tells the story of best friends Marti (Agnes Enkhtamir) and Windy, the former rushing to grow up and the latter trying her best to follow while still clinging to her true passion: American Girl instagram. It’s through this social media niche that Windy meets a college student who only goes by his screen name, AGBOI97 (Branson Rideaux). Over the course of the play, the girls begin to realize just how much their ideas of race, femininity, and sexuality differ. And when Windy and AGBOI’s relationship moves from innocent DMs to not-so-innocent AG roleplay, these differences threaten to rip their fraying ties apart.
Everything about the play, from the indulgent use of the color pink in the set—“Pink is punk,” Marti declares—to jokes about Naked palettes and, of course, the dolls, highlights the unapologetically feminine characters Derman has created. Even the play’s name is a reclamation of a word often used to deride young women for their femininity. In one particularly memorable scene, and the only scene that uses music, Windy and Marti have a dance party during a sleepover. Their cheeks shine with homemade pepto-bismol face masks as they dance around the room in reckless abandon, free to move as they please without the judgement or criticism of others. They can just be two girls having a dance party. It’s deeply moving to watch.
The acting, too, is wonderful. Caplan’s portrayal of Windy is spot-on in its awkwardness without being over-the-top, and Enkhtamir brings a natural vivaciousness and bite to Marti while still displaying her vulnerability. Their chemistry is palpable even in the least intimate moments, which lends each scene an emotional weight that keeps you invested. Together, these actresses bring to life two characters that perfectly embody the beauty and complexity of what it feels like to be fifteen.
The conclusion of Girlish is shocking in its abruptness, and when the lights come up you wonder, through the applause and the bows, if this is really how it ends. But in real life, you don’t get a neat and happy resolution. In real life, things are messier and blurrier. Friends fight and drift apart, and innocence is always eventually lost. Girlish captures this reality in a truly incredible way. It is, at its core, a play about real growth, real heartbreak, and real life. Who knew American Girl dolls could teach you so much?