Immediately after leaving the horrifying years of adolescence, most young women make the conscious decision to totally repress the majority of their memories from the ages of 12 to 16. We’ve survived the bullying, the awkward body changes, the loneliness, countless embarrassing moments and getting rejected by teenage boys, so there’s no need to reflect on it further.
The creators of Dear Diary LOL take the brave step of digging up their old diaries and using verbatim passages from them to make a show. Foggily remembering what happened to you in your adolescence isn’t as cringeworthy as reading exactly what you wrote when you were 13. It’s a step beyond mortifying, which makes for an emotional and funny show.
Alicia Crosby, Nikki Hudgins, Naomi Inoshita, Sarah Knittel, Francesca Montanile Lyons, and Megan Thibodeaux provided their diaries as source material. The ensemble is made up of some diarists and some actors performing a range of teenage characters as well as a couple of adults.
While holding up a large pink frame, each teenager flounces onto the stage to a ’90s or ’00s song that relates to her personality and introduces herself to the audience by reading an entry which explains why they are writing. The tone is light and self-deprecating, but strangely only two or three of the girls depicted have names out of the five. It’s a significant oversight when the show is purporting to give voices to teenage girls who so often don’t have one that’s taken seriously.
The sole man in the show, Michael T. Williams, who never verbally speaks, has a name–Brian. However, Brian represents several different love interests throughout the show (who were probably not all named Brian in reality) and is a placeholder who exists with a permanent dopey look on his face.
Even though the diaries are individual accounts of their teenage years, directors Francesca Montanile Lyons and Michael T. Williams structure the narrative so that the girls are together on-stage as a group of friends in the same school. They don’t usually talk directly to each other, except in one memorable AIM exchange, but they do talk about each other. It’s almost like a Real World confessional or a Carrie Bradshaw monologue, but with a lot more sizzle.
The costume designer isn’t credited, but whoever dressed the actresses looks like they raided a Limited Too or Hot Topic time capsule from the 2000s. The costumes are perfect, utilizing butterflies clips and bright pastels and they’re juxtaposed against a glittery pink streamer backdrop. It’s just a little too much, like a teenage girl putting on eyeshadow for the first time, which is apt for the spirit of the show.
The transitions between scenes move smoothly throughout the first half of the show and to music, which is keenly managed by sound designer Tom Carman, but halfway through the show the music is sped up and rewound and the actors make disjointed movements akin to a CD skipping. It’s a distracting, jarring decision and the effect lasts just a little too long.
Overall though, Dear Diary LOL does get a lot of LOLs from the audience. Jenna Strusowski’s character reads her poems about heartbreak and loneliness in a stilted manner, putting a comic emphasis on the amateur rhymes within the poem. Kelly Conrad’s character sings a song for a talent show, which is hilariously bad. All five girls have a sleepover and watch Kathryn teach Cecile to French kiss in Cruel Intentions with awe and disgust while some wonder if they should try kissing out on their friends. These bits are equal parts awkward and funny.
But Dear Diary LOL throws unexpected gut punches too. When Tatiana (Jessica M. Johnson), who is African-American, is describing her crush on a tall, white, ginger guy, she says matter-of-factly that this teenage boy told her that he’s not interested because he doesn’t have “jungle fever.” She doesn’t seem devastated by this pronouncement. She thinks that she can fix it and he’ll like her eventually. She’s optimistic, and it hurts to see that this might be one of the first times Tatiana has dealt with this kind of interaction, but it won’t be the last.
Other characters delve into struggles with sexuality, slut-shaming, and anxiety. The show reminds the audience that these teen girls are a mix of joy, silliness, and play but they also have issues that they aren’t allowed to talk about besides in the pages of their diaries where they can be quiet and introspective. They think about the larger problems in the country like the D.C. Sniper and 9/11, but they’ve been conditioned to focus on boys, boys, boys and boys when it’s clear that the many “Brians” don’t spend the same time analyzing these girls in their diaries.
In a memorable sequence, the girls have sex dreams during the sleepover. The show doesn’t attempt to smother their sexual feelings. They have sexual urges, and this has been the only show that I’ve ever seen that really acknowledges it.
More than anything else, Dear Diary LOL made me want to tell these actresses, but really, the teenage diarists, that it was all going to be all right. It’s a show that makes women in the audience reach back into the recesses of their memories and pull out painful memories or embarrassing interactions and try to be OK with them. Girls try to be so perfect all the time in a society that is only starting to allow them to be messy, complex humans, and we absolutely need more theater like this. The show closes with the girls dancing around the stage and singing Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful, and it’s even more poignant than Mean Girls’s Damian belting it out onstage.