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December 4, 2013
Review: Death for Sydney Black

2013-12-04"Death for Sydney Black" is a darkly funny, satirical send-up of every pop culture trope involving high school cheerleaders, the pretty “ugly” girl makeover, and the quirky, geeky sidekick, all told through a series of fairytale metaphors including Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel. The “witch” in this tale is Sydney Black: popular prom queen, beautiful blonde, and captain of the cheerleading squad, she is every boy’s fantasy and every girl’s nightmare. Beth Hoyt plays her with wicked glee, capturing the essence of the nastiest mean girl you’ve ever seen. In a genius casting choice, Hoyt also hilariously plays Sydney’s laid back, dreamy boyfriend Brad, who naïve new girl Nancy (Danielle Slavick) has hopelessly fallen for. Narrating the story and providing musical accompaniment is Jen (Alison Buck), the aforementioned sidekick who pretends she hates the cheerleaders but secretly wishes she were popular. Taking a page straight out of "Mean Girls", Jen befriends Nancy, and then tries to get her to infiltrate the popular clique to bring down the queen of mean, Sydney.

Rounding out the cast is a trio of cheerleaders (Natalie Woolams-Torres, Samantha Strelitz, and Emily Kratter), Sydney’s best frienemies, who pepper the narrative with shrieking cheers and abundant boob shaking. These girls alternately prance about like the three witches in Macbeth and embody every insecurity any girl has ever had. They constantly spew a maelstrom of sexual innuendo and slut-bitch-whore name-calling. Their self-loathing is as evident as their envy of their best “friend.”

While the play is supposed to be making fun of the teen comedy trope, the parody seems way over the top and has a tendency to hit the audience over the head with its overt and intentional stereotypes. It’s a little too salty and bitter, and not enough sweet. There are also a lot of deeper, disturbing issues at play – including date rape, child abuse, and suicide – that are simply glossed over and left to the audience to deal with. That said, the actors do attempt to give the characters depth, and the playwright, Leah Nanako Winkler, has given the cheerleaders some really sharp, poignant lines that suggest the self-doubt and secrets stirring beneath.

"Death for Sydney Black" portrays the opposite of sisterhood; it’s a battle of the sexes where no female wins because they have all turned against one another. The one exception is the practical and soulful Jen, who admittedly is involved in as much treachery as everyone else, but who also turns the mirror around and shows the others what people really see. She effectively uses music to tone down the intensity, playing the ukulele and singing in a beautifully lilting way that, for a moment, you really do believe in fairy godmothers.

"Death for Sydney Black" is currently playing at the IRT Theater through December 15, 2013. Check out our listing for more information:

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Written by: Tami Shaloum
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