In junior high, overweight and analytical India Keller (Kathleen Walsh) makes friends with two popular girls, Jen (Susie Balaban) and Sherry (Suzanne Lee Murray). Over the next few years, they meander through the mine fields of dating and social rituals, guided by unwritten laws of conduct.
College changes the women. Jen and Sherry become more feminist, while India discovers she’s attractive and rejects her family and previous life. After college, India falls for Arthur (Jason Tomarken), her boss’ son and everything charming and negative about men. The women learn in different ways how it’s a man’s world.
Playwrights and lyricists Meredith Stiehm and Lisa Zwerling have created a warning toyoung women: Beware the beauty myth. At the same time, they show there are few other avenues.
They’re either trapped in a gilded cage as someone’s wife, or they’ve got to fight in a career stream where the current does not go their way. (Women don’t get promoted as quickly as men, they find.)
While the first act hovers on the overly cute, the second act raises the stakes, if not the reality.
This black-and-white world has a few shades of gray: not all men are terrible nor the women blameless. It can be argued India consciously loses the good things in her life, makes wrong choices.
Director Amy Cabranes moves the work from light to dark effectively, all the while allowing humor to charge through. The nearly naked stage works well, and the choreography is always expressive.
None of the 16 tunes would top a chart, yet the music by David Koff, Anna Moschovakis, Lawrence Rush, Stiehm and Zwerling reflects the characters’ emotions with zest or angst, accompanied by musical director Allen Barton on piano.
The cast, nearly all with superb singing voices, is tops — particularly Walsh as highly likable ugly duckling and Matt Walker, who as Elliott Gold exposes the awkwardness and vulnerability some young men have in struggling with the rules for boys. Aptly rounding out the cast are Jennifer Croslow, playing four women, Lisa Robins and Evan Arnold as India’s family, and Nicholas Johnson in two roles.
Grant Alkin’s set — mostly a backdrop with giant images of eyes, an ear and fishnet stockings — makes more out of less. Light design by Jim Cutter and Aaron Francis, while sometimes too bright, nonetheless reinforces mood.