October 10, 2014
Like the circle of birth, death, and re-birth that is such an important symbol in the work, Carol Campbell’s The Goddess Diaries is back in a new incarnation at George Mason University. Directed by GMU theatre student Kathleen Barth, The Goddess Diaries is a roving project that has been mounted several times at GMU as well as the Capital Fringe Festival, where it was declared a “Best of the Capital Fringe” by this fine publication. Like the journeys of the women whose voices are the heart of the show, The Goddess Diaries is constantly evolving.
Similar to Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, The Goddess Diaries is made up of first person narratives that each showcase a different facet of what it means to be a woman in the modern world. The difference is that The Goddess Diaries absorbs bits and pieces of whichever venue it happens to be staged in; in this case, a monologue written by a George Mason student about the routine objectification of the female body (performed by the excellent Nerissa Hart) makes it into the show. It this customization and specificity that, paradoxically, gives The Goddess Diaries such a universal quality. Each monologue is the story of one woman in one particular stage of one particular life. But by expressing such a broad cross section of the human experience, The Goddess Diaries becomes a much larger story that has the capacity to speak to us all.
The seven monologues (and one song) in The Goddess Diaries cover a wide range of subjects. There is the teenage angst of “Snake Girl” (Mia Amado) so named for her reptilian pet, which accompanies her as she bursts out of her parents house at 16 to live on her own; Kay (Kira Omans), the 30-something bride-to-be who sees the Crate & Barrel wedding registry as a proxy for domestic slavery; And there is Beth (Cami St. Germain), a middle aged divorcee who goes to a New Mexico monastery to find enlightenment but ends up finding swarms of tarantulas – and a possible outlet for facing down her fears.
What binds together the disparate monologues is the idea of personal transformation. The obstacles the characters face sometimes come in the form of another person, like Dawn (Sarah Jebian), who struggles to leave an abusive husband. Or sometimes the adversary is the entire culture of female sexualization and objectification, like in Dani’s (Nerissa Hart) monologue. But in both cases, the resolution must ultimately come from within the characters themselves. It is this message of personal empowerment that buoys The Goddess Diaries from beginning to end.
At the heart of The Goddess Diaries is the metaphor of the wheel of seasons, symbolized literally on stage in the form of a giant wheel that is evocative of a spinning wheel or a ship’s steering wheel. The narrator (Madison Landis, who fulfills a sort of MC role between each monologue) explains how in ancient times, time was seen as an infinite cycle of birth and death, plant and harvest. Thus, the first piece in the show is of an adolescent character (the aforementioned Snake Girl), and as the show progresses, so do the ages of the women. The second to last character is Julie (Kim Condas) who looks back on her life and extends a surprising word of gratitude to her long-ago ex-husband. But the final monologue is delivered by Eryn Rhodes, a very talented young actor who plays Devon, an 11-year old girl who’s world is all dreams and boy/girl parties. Her problems may be “juvenile” in the literal sense, but they are not petty. She reminds us that young people do not live apart from conflicts and anxieties. Conflict follows us from cradle to grave; but we can always overcome it.
There is no doubt that The Goddess Diaries can occasionally drift into sentimentality.The best parts are when the actors are able to resist the warm-and-fuzziness sprinkled throughout the text. Nerissa Hart and Sarah Jebian are the most effective at leading their performances in specific action, allowing the emotion to follow naturally. But overall the ensemble is strong. Proceeds from the Goddess Diaries are always donated to a woman-focused charity; in this case, they are going to the Gender Studies Department at George Mason University. So when you go to see this short, simple gem, you’ll have an additional reason to feel good about it.