Girl You Know It’s True
What would Milli Vanilli do?
|Pavement Group presents|
|Girl You Know It’s True|
Review by J.H. Palmer
In the opening scene of Girl You Know It’s True, Bixby (John Zinn) addresses the audience directly, telling them that this is “a cautionary tale.” We then see Bixby and his live-in boyfriend, Paul (Keith Neagle) in the living room of their apartment. Paul is crouched against a wall, listening to the neighbor engage in sexual activity, as Bixby chastises him for this behavior. We learn that Bixby is a playwright who works as a temp to pay the bills, and is so used to getting rejection letters from theatrical companies that at first it barely fazes him when he receives yet another rejection in the mail. Along with the rejection is a piece of mail addressed to Paul regarding a class action suit against Milli Vanilli, the pop duo that rose to notoriety when it was revealed that their Grammy winning music featured vocalists other than those of Fab Morovan and Rob Pilatus, and that they had been lip synching during live performances.
On a lark, Bixby submits a play under an assumed name, and it gets accepted. Elated and intrigued by this turn of events, he takes it a step further by hiring a black actress, Sid (Samantha Bailey) to represent him at the theater company that has accepted his play. Where Bixby is white, male, American-born, and gay, the character he creates for Sid is lesbian, disabled (she uses a wheelchair), black, and foreign-born. Things take off for Sid and for Bixby, and get progressively more complicated. Bixby becomes distracted with his ruse, and Paul suspects him of having an affair. Sid gets more invested in the role than she’d originally anticipated, and decides to try writing plays herself, instead of just passing off Bixby’s plays as her own.
Between scenes that follow the narrative of Bixby and Sid, we see the story of Milli Vanilli unfold. Fabrice (Armand Fields) and Rob (Sentell Harper) are first presented to the audience at the 1990 Grammy awards, waiting in anticipation as the nominees for Best New Artist are announced: Neneh Cherry, Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, Ton Loc, and Milli Vanilli. As in 1990, they win the award, and make one of the most bizarre acceptance speeches of all time: “We want to say thank you very much, but we want to say there are a lot of artists here in this room, there are a lot of artists outside in the world who could achieve the same award that we achieved today, and it’s (an) award for all artists in the world.” (At the same awards show they performed their hit song “Girl You Know It’s True”, from which the play gets its title. It’s worth watching, if nothing else for the expression on Ozzy Osbourne’s face at 3:40.)
Watching Fabrice and Rob come to life onstage is something of a guilty pleasure: in my youth I was among the demographic that was lured by Milli Vanilli’s charms, and watching Fields and Harper interpret the duo made me feel strangely nostalgic for the time before they were revealed as frauds, and oddly sympathetic to their plight. At the time of the scandal it felt like a slap in the face, the worst kind of deception, but in the context of this play one actually feel sorry for them. Knowing that Pilatus died from a drug overdose in 1998, it seems like a harsh sentence for a deception of the most fluffy, pop-culture variety, and the time that has elapsed since 1990 makes the crime look fuzzy in the way that all things viewed through a retro lens seem sweeter than they really were.
The narratives of Milli Vanilli, Bixby, and Sid are shown side by side, with intermittent appearances from various one-scene characters ranging from Kim Kardashian to a man who has worked the same job for nine years but once had artistic aspirations that have been set aside in the name of drawing an income. The implication made by their monologues becomes clear – we all pretend to be something we’re not at some point in our lives, the question is – where do you draw the line?
By the end of the play the situation with Bixby and Sid has completely unraveled, in ways that I won’t spoil by detailing them here. Bixby’s portrayal of a frustrated playwright looking for validation is one that all but the most successful people can relate to; who among us hasn’t wished that we could somehow gain success by being different than what we really are? This play is a fun romp through “what if?”, allowing the audience to wonder along with Bixby about how they would face similar questions and obstacles in their own lives. This play is as entertaining as it is thoughtful, with a strong cast backing up great dialogue and clever staging.
Girl You Know It’s True continues through May 13th at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $25, and are available online at BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at PavementGroup.org. (Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission)
All photos by RE Casper
behind the scenes
David Perez (director); Mary Krupka (production manager); Taylor Fenderbosch (stage manager); John Wilson (set design); Tim Schoen (lighting); Jeff Kelley (sound design); Aimee Plant (props); Emma Cullimore (costumes); RE Casper (photos)