Midwestern girls get a (basketball) league of their own in this 2014 drama by Meg Miroshnik.
At first, the trajectory that Meg Miroshnik’s The Tall Girls travels seems all too familiar. A bunch of scrappy teenaged girls trapped in a dying Dust Bowl town band together to form a basketball team and play themselves into a brighter future. In Shattered Globe’s Chicago premiere from director Louis Contey, all the components are there for a classic, feel-good sports story,
The characters are readily familiar. There’s the skeptical new kid, Jean (Angie Shriner), who’s just arrived from out of town to take care of her mad-dog younger cousin, Almeda (Tracey Green); the all-too-proper Puppy (Abbey Smith), whose mother despises basketball and is trying to get it banned throughout the state; the stalwart Inez (Tina Muñoz Pandya), whose family farm is one the brink of foreclosure; and Lurlene (Christina Gorman), a goofy horndog whose faith in her own powers of seduction is second to none.
The girls’ teacher and coach, Haunt Johnny (Joseph Wiens) is yet another familiar type—a man come home to make good and to outrun a shady, sordid past. There’s even an easy villain: the “Committee on Play,” an organization headed by the former First Lady, Mrs. Hoover, which seeks to ban girls’ basketball entirely. By the time the house lights rise for intermission, most audience members will think that they know exactly what Act II has in store.
And most of them would be wrong. For in its second act, The Tall Girls takes the familiar tropes of the “scrappy underdog sports team” narrative and dropkicks them into the bleachers. The weight of the world—of grinding poverty and rampant misogyny—becomes too much for them to bear. The team splinters, and the girls are forced to find their own paths forward.
Miroshnik’s script can become muddled at times, almost as though its early reliance on sports clichés can allow it to skip ahead to the good stuff. However, Contey’s production is warm and amiable, with well-staged basketball scenes that tell the story while minimizing the chance for error. (No matter how many times you rehearse, the ball might still not go in the dang basket.) The cast across the board is wonderful, while the set and costumes by Amanda Rozmiarek and Sarah Jo White, respectively, do a great deal to bring the play’s Dust Bowl setting to life.
Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit. By Meg Miroshnik. Directed by Louis Contey. With Christina Gorman, Tracey Green, Tina Muñoz Pandaya, Angie Shriner, Abbey Smith, Joseph Wiens. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission.