In Bittergirl, Cailin Stadnyk, Katrina Reynolds and Lauren Bowler play women who have just been dumped by their boyfriends – maybe they can get back their men if they lose some weight? (photo by Emily Cooper)
Have you ever taken part in an aerobics class and wondered how many of the women in it were trying to lose weight to get a boyfriend back? The sad truth is, there are probably many, eagerly trying anything to return to the way things were, even if the way things were wasn’t all that great.
Bittergirl: The Musical takes aim at countless breakup truisms from the perspectives of three different women, reminiscent of the sharp wit in Mom’s the Word and the relationship charades of Sex in the City. Their varied responses to being dumped are hilariously insightful.
The progress of the play loosely follows the five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages of the breakups are denial (he made a mistake), second-guessing (I could have done something differently), manipulation (I’m going to make him love me), reflection (I should have seen the warning signs) and acceptance (I’m over him, I’ve moved on).
The three women – played by Lauren Bowler, Katrina Reynolds and Cailin Stadnyk – are known only as A, B and C, as though these trials and tribulations are those that belong to every woman, not a specific person. Jewish community member Josh Epstein plays D, all three of the dumpers – the husband who wants to join the RCMP, the live-in partner who just “has to go” and the boyfriend who’s lost his “magic.”
Epstein delivers the stereotypical reasons why he needs to get out of each relationship: “I feel trapped,” “I can’t give you what you want” and the ridiculous “We’ve got to be birds flying higher.”
The lame rationales elicit howls of laughter at the familiarity, especially when one of the women initially thinks that the “talk” her boyfriend wants to have will lead to a proposal.
Not surprisingly, the women stand there, stunned into silence, not demanding further explanation, but meekly mumbling things like, “I understand,” even though they don’t – another conventional reaction it is sadly not surprising to see depicted.
After their men leave, the women think about what they might have done differently to save their relationships – “Maybe if I wore plum eyeshadow,” “Maybe if I didn’t talk to my mother so much” and “Maybe if I worked out more.” This last statement segues into an hysterical scene of the three women working out with various gizmos and in different types of classes in a desperate bid to get in shape and win back their men.
The women also reflect on the warnings signs they missed. He wears socks with sandals. He cries at Celine Dion songs. He growls during sex.
Especially comical is a scene where the women run into friends and they are forced to admit they were dumped. The standard, “You’re better off without him” or “If you guys couldn’t make it work, what chance do the rest of us have?” hit the mark on how insensitive people can be, much to the enjoyment of the audience. The rapid-fire delivery of the lines, the women playing off each other brilliantly, is a sight to see and hear.
As the musical progresses, classic girl-group songs of the 1960s and ’70s complement the dialogue. Thinking about their first dates leads into “And Then He Kissed Me.” The initial breakups prompt a rendition of “Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This.” When the women hope they’ll have a chance to renew the relationship, they sing “When Will I See You Again?” And who hasn’t felt the difficulty of moving on because there’s “Always Something There to Remind Me”?
The strength of the play is in how the writing spotlights those moments we all know so well and that sound so absurd when depicted one after the other. Being reminded of one’s own failed relationships, watching the play is like watching a good comedian – often funny and, despite being cringeworthy at times, you want to stay to the finale.
As with the different stages of death, the women finally accept their situations and move on with their lives, singing such lyrics as “you don’t really love me; you just keep me hanging on,” there are “too many fish in the sea” and “I will survive.”
Bittergirl is actually an autobiographical play written by three Toronto actresses who had, indeed, just gotten dumped by a husband, live-in boyfriend and short-term partner. The positive reaction to the play led to the 2005 book Bittergirl: Getting Over Getting Dumped. After that, the writers added the songs, accompanied by an all-female band onstage, and the musical was born.
Besides the sharp, insightful writing, these women (and Epstein) can all belt out a tune, making the performance a hit from the beginning to the (not so) bitter end.
Bittergirl runs at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage until July 29. For tickets and more information, visit artsclub.com.
Baila Lazarus is Vancouver-based writer and principal media strategist at phase2coaching.com.