Entertainment » Theatre

Top Girls

by Clinton Campbell
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 15, 2018
Sophia Ramos, Carmen M. Herlihy, Paula Plum, Vanessa Kai, and Carmen Zilles in "Top Girls" at the Huntington Theatre Company through May 20.
Sophia Ramos, Carmen M. Herlihy, Paula Plum, Vanessa Kai, and Carmen Zilles in "Top Girls" at the Huntington Theatre Company through May 20.  (Source:Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

For many, Caryl Churchill is the patron saint of feminist theater. Over the course of several decades she has produced challenging, genre-defying, non-linear works that expose human power dynamics and sexual politics. Her 1982 play, "Top Girls" is often seen as an accessible entry point to her works which are often dense with language, historical references, and ideas.

The Huntington Theater's current production does an excellent job of providing this entry point.

Award-winning director Liesl Tommy has created a visually lavish and quickly paced production that holds your attention even when it becomes difficult to follow the text. And the women of the ensemble all give outstanding performances. The result is a riveting show.

For audiences new to Churchill's works, the main challenge in "Top Girls" is getting through the first act. In it, a young woman, Marlene, has just been promoted and holds a dinner party for a group of both real and fictional women from history who had to make sacrifices for their accomplishments. Not only does one need to buy into the idea that this dinner party can even exist, but there are multiple periods when everyone is talking at once which can be disorienting for the audience.


Kiara Pichardo and Carmen Herlihy in "Top Girls" at the Huntington Theatre Company through May 20.  (Source:Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Traditionally staged at a long table with all the guests seated on one side facing the audience - think "The Last Supper" - Tommy here chooses to stage it naturally around a dinner table. While this does add a sense of realism into an obviously unrealistic event, it also causes issues with sight lines and hearing for the audience.

However, the second act is much more naturalistic in style. Here we are exposed to Marlene's work life and family. After hearing about all the sacrifices from historic women in the first act, we also get to see the sacrifices that Marlene is and has made on her own.

And while all the actors are excellent, this show is really driven by Carmen M. Herlihy's Angie and Sophia Ramos' Joyce. Both spectacular scorched earth performances. It is almost impossible to take your eyes from them during the second act.

As with any artist whose career spans such a period, Churchill's works have gone in and out of vogue. There is currently a resurgence of her popularity driven partly by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. One of the benefits of such trends is that we get to revisit works like "Top Girls." Anyone interested in her works should take the opportunity to catch this excellent production.


"Top Girls" continues through May 20 at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the Huntington Theatre Company's website.


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