Playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner uses broad comedy to explore the drama of preprepubescent girls
While most dark comedies about adolescent angst take place in high school (see Heathers
, Mean Girls
, et al), playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner thinks the anxiety sets in before the teen years. Even now as an adult, she still finds tweens totally terrifying. "When I see a group of middle schoolers walking down the street, I have heart palpitations!" she says with only a trace of sarcasm. "I feel like they’re going to make fun of me all over again."
Weiner grew up in suburban Florida, just like the gaggle of unhinged 12-year-olds at the heart of Horse Girls
, her brazen and bloody coming-of-age satire at the Cell Theatre. However, at their age Weiner wasn't into steeds at all---she was fixated on theatre. "I was obsessed with the stage and playing make-believe and Barbies, but that wasn't always acceptable," she recalls. "Most of the other girls were into straightening their hair and going to the movies and meeting boys. I felt this sadness about losing my childhood, but I was also so excited to grow up."
explores that fraught nexus between being a little kid and a young adult through the members of the Lady Jean Ladies, a tight-knit group of riders whose fierce love of horses makes the kid in Equus
seem sane. Ruled with an iron fist by Ashleigh (the richest, blondest, and bitchiest of the bunch), the club is thrown off balance by the arrival of a stranger and a disturbing rumor about the girls' beloved animals. At a breakneck gallop, the meeting devolves into chaos with lots of laughs, karaoke anthems, and social commentary along the way.
"I didn’t set out to write a show that was specifically horse related," Weiner says, but during her "research phase" she realized that insular scene was her gateway into examining this particular period of girlhood. It helped that she had known a few horse fanatics in her time. "When I was a kid, my aunt was a horse girl, and she still is now at 55! Also, years ago, one of my friend’s sisters had this tragically funny away message on instant messenger: 'Boyz may come and boyz may go but horses R 4ever.' It became this in-joke with my friends. That obsessiveness, paired with that feeling of wanting to belong, of being part of such a niche group, was a great way to explore that middle school experience for me."
Directed by Sarah Krohn, Horse Girls
has evolved a lot since the duo began working together two years ago. "It was longer at one point, but Jenny was ruthless at cutting away the fat of it," Krohn says. Adds Weiner, "The first draft was more like sketch comedy, with all of the things I thought were funny splattered in a Word doc. But as I started to cull through, the play really grew in terms of the emotions and stakes. I feel very strongly that comedies should have an underbelly and a heart."
To that end, Horse Girls
touches on politics (Ann Romney, a.k.a. the original horse girl
, is their patron saint), class (much hay is made over which girls own horses, and which just rent), and sexuality.
"I think the honesty of it and the way Jenny draws from her own life growing up makes it so rich," says Krohn. "It teeters on this edge of being plausible and relatable and outlandish and over the top. Going between those two worlds makes it much more powerful."
Adding to Horse Girls
' potency is the claustrophobic nature of the theatre (there's no stage so the audience is practically sitting in the middle of Ashleigh's bedroom) and the show's taut running time of just 50 minutes. "Initially we wondered if we had to pair it with something else, but it's proven it can stand alone as an evening," Weiner says. "The moment an audience starts thinking about what they’re eating for dinner, you've lost them. That's why Horse Girls
is a pressure cooker---every minute is crucial."
Raven Snook is TDF's associate editor of online content
Photos by Hunter Canning