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January 29, 2018
Review: ‘Dear Diary LOL’ at FringeArts
Photo by Tim O'Donnell

From vinyl release parties to Buzzfeed quizzes that reveal which early 2000’s boy band you are, millennials are in the market for nostalgia. This romanticization of the past has us all chuckling about the endless hours we once spent starting at the AOL dialup screen but the past is not always as scrutable, simple, or quaint as we’d like to think it was, or so say the creators of AntiGravity Theater Project’s Dear Diary LOL, presented by Philadelphia’s FringeArts.

Dear Diary LOL is the height of awkward, angsty, and emo, which is ideal, considering that the text is drawn exclusively from the diaries that the show’s female creators kept between ages 12 and 15. Performers Alicia Crosby, Sarah Knittel, Francesca Montanile Lyons, Gina Elizabeth Murdoch, Jenna Strusowski, Megan Thibodeaux, and Michael T. Williams each play a painfully nuanced characterization of their preteen selves, often reciting monologues that begin with “dear diary, today at school…” and end with an abundance of “lol”s, “jk”s, and “haha”s that more often follow the recounting of a thinly veiled preteen trauma than an actual joke.

In the highly social world of this teenage lady crew emotions run high. At a boy-girl party one of the girl’s skirts gets tucked into her panties by accident, resulting in not one but two meltdowns as the girl’s best friend witness the event and devolves into uncontrollable empathy sobs. At the same party, one of the girls starts making out with (and by default dating) Brian, a guy who each of the other girls date or crush on during the piece. “How does it feel to have someone?” one of her friends asks. “Great. Perfect. Amazing,” she says, only kind of rubbing it in her friend’s face that she has a boyfriend. “It’s like, I used to be lonely and now I’m not alone anymore.”

Emotions are also complicated by the privileges and discomforts of white, middle class, pre-teen life in 2001. In a monologue that starts out with a list of boys she has a crush on and how much she’s grown as a person since she last wrote, Crosby’s character Ella remembers that 9/11 happened not too long ago and that her journal must think her horrible for not mentioning this first but, in her defense, she had a really big math test coming up.

The show’s lead artist and director, Francesca Montanile Lyons, deftly balances the forces of horror and humor that make coming of age so formative, for better and worse. Audience members can’t help but feel both infinitely grateful that that chapter of their lives has closed and just a teeny bit insecure that their inner 13-year-old may still be calling the shots in their life even now.

Equal parts cringeworthy and relatable, Dear Diary LOL is nothing short of hilarious and heart breaking.

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