Gender Roles and Identity Meet the Great Depression via Basketball in the TALL GIRLS

Gender Roles and Identity Meet the Great Depression via Basketball in the TALL GIRLS

(left to right) Tracey Green, Angie Shriner, Joseph Wiens, Tina Muñoz Pandy, Abbey Smith and Christina Gorman in Shattered Globe Theatre’s Chicago premiere of THE TALL GIRLS by Meg Miroshnik, directed by ensemble member Louis Contey. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Review: THE TALL GIRLS at Shattered Globe Theatre

By Naima Dawson

THE TALL GIRLS, written by Meg Miroshnik and directed by Shattered Globe ensemble member Louis Contey, is a story about five young girls, who form a basketball team while trying to discover their identity as young women during the tumultuous time of the Great Depression.

Jean (Angie Shriner) is 15-years-old when she is shipped off to a struggling rural community, metaphorically named Poor Prairie to live with her cousin, Almeda (Tracey Green). Her mother found a new love and it appears that raising Jean is not an option in her mother’s new marriage arrangement.

Almeda, who is younger than Jean, is a rough and ragged tomboy, who adores all things basketball and frowns upon embracing her feminine side. Tracey Green delivers a solid performance in Almeda. Green gives us a girl unbothered by her boyish ways, yet is fixated on making it as a professional basketball player. She does a fine job exposing the naivety of Almeda’s character, who is unaware of the realities of the world that surrounds her. It is because of Almeda that the girls of Poor Prairie come together to form a basketball team. They are aided in their efforts by the help of the new math teacher, Haunt Johnny (Joseph Wiens), who happens to be a former basketball player from Poor Prairie who recently returned to his old hometown with the hopes of a fresh start.

The girls who join Jean and Almeda to make a team of five, Inez (Tina Muñoz Pandya), Puppy (Abbey Smith), and Lurlene (Christina Gorman) each become symbolic representations of identities lost or realized. Christina Gorman (Lurlene) delivered a stellar and compelling image of a young lady nearing 18 who often over-sexualizes herself, and presents herself as the most beautiful girl in the world, as seen in the movies or the cover of magazines. Lurlene smothers the bleakness of her world by creating embellished stories of romantic rendezvous that often left the audience in complete laughter. Lurlene represents the girl who never saw her real beauty and potential, or a way out of a small, poor town. Gorman is a natural onstage, and she successfully unpacks the many emotional complexities of Lurlene. Gorman’s innate ability for comedy paired with her ability to become vulnerable to the fragile nature of Lurlene makes the audience have the greatest sympathy and compassion for her character.

Abbey Smith also delivers a strong performance as Puppy. Puppy starts off as a timid young girl, under the control of her mother, who strongly believes in maintaining the integrity of a woman’s femininity, and the necessity for all women to follow their prescribed roles created by society’s privilege. Abbey Smith seamlessly transforms her character from this meek little girl who dislikes disappointing people, to a mean girl who adopts her mother’s ideas and social politics. Smith really submerges herself into this character to give the audience this dichotomy of Puppy who falls in line with society’s idea of a proper woman.

THE TALL GIRLS has great moments that often succumb to the many overlapping stories told in the play. The play teeters between the ills of men who were not held accountable for their predatory behavior towards young women, and young girls fighting to self-identify during a time when assigned gender roles were forced upon women.

About author

Naima Dawson

Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.