Combine three of my passions — graphic novels, theater, and teenagers — and you’ve pretty much got my artistic dream come true. Last night, I saw the play The Diary of a Teenage Girl, adapted by Marielle Heller from a graphic novel with the same title by Phoebe Gloeckner. The book uses diary entries, letters, poems, songs, and drawings to tell the very serious story of Minnie, a 15-year-old girl living in San Francisco in the 1970s, who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Even though Gloeckner won’t confirm how much of the story is based in reality (it reads 100 percent autobiographical), she claims that the book, which took her seven years to complete, “almost killed her.” When writer and actress Marielle Heller read the book, The Diary of a Teenage Girl three years ago, she knew it would have an impact onstage. After fighting for the rights to adapt the script for ten months, she finally received them and felt she had a huge responsibility to the story. Three years later, Heller and her creative team nailed it. I loved how the production captured the multi-media aspect of the graphic novel, by incorporating video, live audio, fantasy, and dream sequences to portray the story. But what was really so dead on was Heller’s portrayal of Minnie – she took on the lead role as well as the adaptation of the script. She captured the state of being a 15-yer-old – raw, naïve, flippant and dramatic at the same time.
The character of Minnie hit me in such a deep place because, as a teacher, I dedicated four years of my life to working with teenage girls – trying to understand them and more importantly trying to help them learn to express themselves creatively. Sometimes, on rare occasions, my girls would spill their guts to me about what was really up with them, but most of the time they were so private. I could see in their eyes that they had some heavy s**t that they were dealing with and they didn’t yet have the emotional vocabulary to talk about it or understand it. I hated knowing it was killing them inside because they thought they had to deal with it alone. The Diary of a Teenage Girl was like a voyeuristic peek into their minds. While Minnie’s story is about sexual awakening and the confusion of all that, the message underneath the story is a universal one — young women can turn their pain into art as a way to cope with and heal from difficult experiences. And I guess that’s what motivated me to teach theater to teenage girls in the first place. While the girls didn’t want to talk about the bulimia, abuse, molestation, depression, pregnancy, questioning of sexual orientation, they could have a creative outlet to get those emotions out. And, hopefully, that would offer some reprieve and let them believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. [Brooklyn Rail]