“The truth is…” Doll’s voice trails off. When you don’t fit in at school, when you’re not getting what you need at home, and when nothing in your short life seems to make sense, perhaps telling lies is your only option – swirly, massive, magic lies that make you visible, mysterious, and important.
Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s Epic Love and Pop Songs makes a colorful, sparkly presentation of sixteen year-old Doll Evans’s and her embellished tales. Like the hostess of her own variety show, dancing around the living room in her pajamas and costumes, Doll wants to tell us “her story”. She needs some assistance so her awkward but sweet friend Ted Parker is her backing dancer.
Doll is angry, bossy, and seeking her own spotlight. “I’m going to be stellar,” she exclaims. This boasting comes from a place of pain and in the face of all signs to the contrary. She’s low in the pecking order at school and moving even lower. She is called a psycho by the mean girls after attacking one of them. Ted is seen as a “wet weirdo.” So Doll (Norah Lopez Holden) and Ted (George Caple) band together for protection and self-preservation.
No one pays much attention to her, so she finds a way to turn their heads: she is pregnant…or is she? Her mother has her doubts. Ted is quick to point out he’s not the father but he’s keen to help out. The pregnancy comes at propitious time for Ted – Ted’s still grieving for his sister who died and Doll’s baby may solve all their problems.
At it’s core, this story is about Doll and Ted and what they give each other in the face of so much neglect – teens craving love, care, and notice from the adults who have gotten lost in their own tragedies. When Doll says, “All I want is a hug,” we are left to wonder how long she has gone without one. Her counterbalance to being forgotten has been to spin yarns so complicated these latchkey kids are now trapped in a web of lies. To save Doll, Ted must torpedo her refuge and delusions, and provide a way out.
What starts out as make-believe transforms to something painfully real in the narrative and with the production as well. Eclair-Powell creates Doll’s fantasy world as if sloppily cut out from magazines. It’s glittery, dramatic, and airbrushed but gouged from the pages without care.
These characters have not thought through their ideas completely so the play moves in messy strokes and some of the play’s structure unravels alongside the characters’ lives. The variety show format unevenly drifts in and out of use. Lip syncing and dance routines early on in the play break up the storytelling but eventually those musical numbers disappear all together. Though the idea may be that the fantasy elements of Doll’s existence fall away, the staging makes that feel less intentional. Nevertheless, Doll and Ted have vivid voices and Lopez Holden and Caple make them compelling to watch even amidst the clutter.