Fifteen-year-old Minnie Goetze has boy trouble. And girl trouble. And pill trouble. Adrift in 1970s San Francisco, she skips school in favor of exploring her sexuality and various pharmaceuticals. Adapted from cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner’s very graphic autobiographical novel, a combination of prose and images, Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl narrates the dimming of the Age of Aquarius.
Directors Sarah Cameron Sunde and Rachel Eckerling, along with scenic designer Lauren Helpern, transform the 3LD space into a theater-in-the-round dressed up as a shag pad—tan carpeting, avocado floor pillows, giant flowers. In the midst of all this queasy grooviness, Minnie (Heller) flops on her bed and tape-records her misadventures, while projections—such as cartoon panels and Super 8 images—swirl around her. Though the multimedia elements are somewhat overused, this is the rare 3LD show in which the tech doesn’t overwhelm the text.
In the play’s first moments, Minnie announces an ambivalent affair with her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (an agreeably spacey Michael Laurence). “I don’t know whether or not I want him or anyone else to fuck me,” she tells her diary, “but I’m afraid to pass up the chance because I might never get another.” (Minnie does get many more chances, most of them unhappy.) Minnie’s voice—precocious and pretentious, childish and sophisticated—sustains the piece. She doesn’t perceive Monroe as a monster or herself as a seductress, and the story she relates is far more poignant and difficult. Her relationships with her mother, stepfather, and best friend are no less fraught. Gloeckner’s drawings, which often appear behind Minnie, are in black-and-white; little else in the play is.
Though Diary contains some upsetting episodes, the piece isn’t as disturbing as it might be. Heller is at least twice Minnie’s age, and while her performance is engaging, it’s perhaps too assured: You never really think you’re witnessing a teenage girl’s exploits, merely a capable actress portraying them. And the most troubling incidents, such as a rape scene, are narrated rather than enacted—likely a smart choice, but also a safe one. Still, Heller and her collaborators provide an affecting portrait of an artist as a very young woman. Can you dig it?