By LIZ BYRON. Before I tell you what I thought of the opening production of Gadfly Theatre‘s fifth season, a little disclosure: I didn’t seek out a cast list when I agreed to review this play, and so it wasn’t until I sat down in my seat on Friday night and looked at the program that I know two of the cast members reasonably well. I usually try to avoid that sort of thing, but while the Twin Cities theatre scene is robust, it is not infinite in size.
Alright, with that taken care of: Girl Gumshoe and Detective Dad. I have to admit, the title didn’t grab me, but I’ve had good experiences with Gadfly before, so I went for it — and I’m glad I did. Playwright Eli Effinger-Weintraub has created a story that is both humourous and touching, and is full of characters that are well-developed and endearing. There is a lot of story in this fairly short play (clocking about 1 hour, 50 minutes including an intermission), but it never feels rushed or forced. Well done, says me.
Girl Gumshoe and Detective Dad takes place on moving day. 22-year-old Gina Davenport is moving out of her parents’ basement and into an apartment with her girlfriend Sarita. Helping them are Gina’s parents, who each have their reasons for being unhappy about their daughter’s new living situation. Before he says goodbye, Gina’s father Troy decides that he and Gina should indulge in one last round of “Girl Gumshoe and Detective Dad”, the crime-solving game they started when Gina was only 4. But Troy seems to think the game is real, Gina is torn between playing childhood games with her dad and living her adult life with her girlfriend, and there may be a murder to uncover.
Now, you can argue about whether the play is ultimately about Gina, Troy, or both, so it is lucky that both Lauren Diesch and G Zachariah White respectively gave such strong performances. Diesch is sympathetic as Gina; torn between the fun and safety of childhood and the freedom of adulthood, and White was particularly outstanding as a father in denial about the passage of time; at times zany to the point of being manic, and just very… dad-ish, for lack of a more appropriate (or real) word.
There weren’t really any weak points in the cast, really. Kate Bailey as Gina’s mother Irene was so bitter it was almost uncomfortable to watch her, and Kathryne Fumie gave a very believable, natural performance as Gina’s girlfriend Sarita. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Fawn Wilderson-Legros‘ entertaining and energetic performance as Nan, the over-the-top neighbour who invites herself into the girls’ lives.
I was so happy to see a play with LGBT characters that wasn’t a play about LGBT issues. Sure, the fact that Gina is moving in with her girlfriend is an issue throughout the play, but it’s not the focus of the story, which is so refreshing and something I hope to see more of. Now, this is me letting my personal politics show, but I think that any time characters who are part of a minority group — be it defined by race, orientation, gender, religion, size, shape, etc — are seen on stage without being labelled primarily as their minority (“The Black Girl” or “The Trans Guy” or “The Fat Lady”, etc) it shows progress toward acceptance. Suddenly that black girl is not important for the colour of her skin, but for her obsession with video games, or whatever it is. Similarly, the fact that this play is not about how Gina and Sarita are lesbians (or bisexuals, or maybe one of each!) but about their relationships, particularly Gina’s relationship with her father, makes the presence of a same-sex relationship seem less radical (which, by the way, it isn’t). So, bravo, Eli Effinger-Weintraub.
Now, one piece of advice: if you go to see the show — which you should — don’t sit in the front row. The People’s Center is a cozy venue that is reasonably well-designed, but the lighting is such that when all the stage lights are on, the front row is rather better-lit than one might prefer. So, watch out for that. And keep in mind, this is a small theatre company that lacks a huge budget; this is not a show with fancy sets and extravagant costume changes. But, you know, those things may be fun, but they definitely aren’t necessary to tell a good story. Go see Girl Gumshoe and Detective Dad; you’ll have a good time and be glad you went.
Girl Gumshoe and Detective Dad by Eli Effinger-Weintraub, presented by Gadfly Theatre runs October 17-26th, 2014 at the People’s Center Theater, 425 20th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets $12-25 sliding scale with pay-what-you-can performances on October 19, 20, and 26. Purchase tickets at http://www.gadflytheatre.org/ or at the door.