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Theater | Theater Review

Addressing Stereotypes

'Bill's New Frock' takes a playful but thoughtful look at gender roles.

April 04, 2002|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What if you were a 10-year-old boy who woke up one morning to find that everyone, Mom and Dad included, thought that you were a girl, and always had been?

And what if your mom sent you to school in the pinkest, frilliest, laciest dress you've ever seen--and everyone at school thought you were a girl, too?

Gender stereotypes are given a delicious trouncing in "Bill's New Frock," presented by the Mark Taper Forum's professional theater for young audiences, P.L.A.Y. (Performing for Los Angeles Youth), in schools and at several public venues in April and May.

Adapted by Scottish theater company Visible Fictions from a novel by Anne Fine, this hourlong comic piece was further adapted for American audiences by Visible Fictions founding member and co-artistic director Douglas Irvine.

It's message theater, but there's no soap box in sight in this zany satire. Physical humor and a genuinely witty script reign supreme as Bill (Ron Garcia) experiences subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the way he's now treated by parents, peers and teachers (played by Julanne Chidi Hill, Paula Killen and Sun St. Pierre).

As a girl, especially one in a frilly frock, Bill isn't expected to want to play football, help move furniture, fight with boys, make noise or get dirty. His trials include unwelcome overtures from a smitten neighborhood bully (comical Hill), a teacher who expects neater work from girls than boys, boys who hog the playground with their game of football, and getting stuck with the Barbie comic book (which, to Bill's surprise, turns out to have some pretty good stories in it).

Bill is also expected to play Rapunzel in a class play, occasioning a wild fantasy sequence in which Bill, impatient with Rapunzel's apparent lack of spirit, rewrites the story, imagining Rapunzel rescuing herself in a "Mission: Impossible"-James Bond-cowboy-swashbuckler adventure.

The production, seen at a stop at the 24th Street Theatre as part of the theater's Saturday Explorer family series, couldn't ask for a better Bill than Garcia. A gifted physical actor, he is hilarious throughout, and convincing, too, as Bill sees the world through new eyes and bewilderment gives way to understanding.

This stand-out family theater experience, however, is also due to Irvine's imaginative, assured direction and ensemble members Hill, Killen and St. Pierre.

These talented actors not only bring alive all of the other characters in the play, but with the action taking place on Rachel Hauck's minimal set--three chairs serving multiple purposes--they perform as sets, props, sound effects and narrators, too. Jose Lopez's impressive lighting design contributes another layer of depth and costume designer Joyce Kim Lee adds another helping of visual humor with Bill's wonderfully over-the-top, girly frock.

*

"Bill's New Frock," Asian Youth Center, 100 W. Clary Ave., San Gabriel, Saturday at 11 a.m., (626) 309-0622, Ext. 114; California Youth Theatre at the Ivar Theatre, 1605 N. Ivar Ave., Hollywood, April 13 at 1 p.m., (213) 972-7587; Mark Taper Forum, Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A., April 21, 2 p.m., (213) 365-3500; Performing Arts Center at University Student Union, Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., April 27 at 11 a.m., (818) 677-3943; West L.A., time and location to be announced, May 4. Free, except for April 21, $7. Reservations advised for all shows. Running time: 1 hour.

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