Although Dani Girl is about a nine-year-old, this is not a play for children. Dani Girl touches on almost every subject that is scary and serious to adults – divorce, religion, cancer and the death of a child. The Unexpected Stage Company’s production of Dani Girl, written by Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond and directed by Christopher Goodrich, tackles these issues and brings to the stage a sweet and at times unflinching look at what is the adult equivalent of the boogie man. Oh, and it is a musical as well.
I recommend you go on this adventure…
When entering the theatre, playing in the background are hospital sounds like the beeping of machinery, intercom calls to doctors and nurses and the echoes of footsteps and conversations. These background sounds helped set the mood of the play and highlighted the stage, which is set in a children’s hospital room with two beds, games and stuffed animals that soften the look of the IV drips, bedpans and vital sign monitors.
Caroline Wolfson plays Dani, a nine-year-old girl who has leukemia, a type of blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow. It is a tough cancer to beat. Wolfson does a great job showing the emotional vulnerability of a young child faced with another round of chemotherapy to fight her returning cancer. The way Dani deals with her days of pain and treatments is with her incredible imagination. Her best friend is a guardian angel named Raph, played by an adorable Joshua Simon, who has little pink wings on his back and who has dedicated all of his angel time to cheering up Dani. Simon also plays Cancer, who dresses a bit like a pirate and seeks out Dani during her imaginative adventures in an attempt to spoil them and scare her.
When Marty, played by Zach Brewster-Geisz, moves into Dani’s room, she finds an instant best friend who is excited to join Dani’s adventures and suggest some of his own. Watching Brewster-Geisz and Wolfson together, it was easy for me to forget that these two aren’t young children. Whether they are singing together, planning their next adventure or helping each other through another round of treatments or increasing illness, they remain young, hopeful but tormented souls.
Maggie Robertson rounds out the cast as Dani’s mother, a single parent. Robertson plays Dani’s mom as a strong, stoic woman. She has a wonderful solo near the end of the play that had more than a few people in the audience sniffling.
Peter “Zeke” Dowty, Lighting Designer, and Elliot Lanes, Sound Designer, made the variations between time passing, flashbacks and imaginative adventures easy to follow. Live music accompanies all the songs, headed by Music Director Laura Brady (also on the keyboards), Vaughn Irving/Arielle Miller on drums and Katie Chambers on the cello.
There is a happy ending, of sorts. But dealing with these big emotional issues is completely subjective, and so is how each person might feel about how Dani Girl ends. I recommend you go on this adventure and judge for yourself.
Running Time: 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission.
Dani Girl runs through August 10, 2015 at Unexpected Stage Company, Randolph Road Theater, 4010 Randolph Road, Silver Spring, MD 20902. For tickets click here.