Lunchbox play features favorite home front American Girl

Nicole Likarish

This year, Harper Joy’s annual American Girl Doll lunchbox featured “War on the Home Front: A Play About Molly.” At least 25 people came during lunch last Thursday to the Alexander Stage to share in the American Girl phenomenon that has become far more than a doll series.

The play runs its course in just over 20 minutes, but it has it all, namely constant exploitations of the depravity of a WWII era childhood and conscientiously checked sibling rivalries. “The War” is cited to giddy exhaustion, whether to render Molly’s elaborate Halloween costume or the kids’ patented pranks selfish and wasteful. Doe-eyed Molly, played by first-year Eliza Young, and her entourage of preadolescent schoolgirls, especially British dilly Emily, played by Beth Frieden, make perfect incarnations of the American Girl dolls. Ricky, played by senior Sam Horwith, while hardly quick-witted, provides a hilarious foil to his sister Molly. Spraying the girls with a squirt bottle in dramatic slow motion, Ricky somehow succeeds in spoiling their Halloween and incurring their prepubescent wrath.

The girls’ plot to mortify him in front of his love, the beautiful and precocious Dolores, played by sophomore Christina Russell, is also miraculously, and hilariously, successful. Lest anyone forgot the moral by the end, Ricky and Molly’s mother delivers yet another speech reiterating the sacrifices and codes of conduct expected of wartime children.

The script was bought from what director Sarah McCarthy calls the “American Girl Doll Empire.” She added parts from the Molly book series. “I wanted to include as many people as possible, so I added Molly’s best friend Emily for Beth Frieden and her older sister Jill for Kelsey Yuhara. The half-naked boys were a late addition. Peter Richards appears half-naked in just about every HJT production anyway, and we found Burke Gardener in the hall right before,” McCarthy said.

“The idea for these plays is to have your own doll and to get all your friends and their dolls to come over and put on this play,” said McCarthy. “I tried doing it when I was 9 but it didn’t work out.”
She pulled it off 12 years later. “Students have been doing this at least as long as I’ve been here. The last two years were ‘Changes for Kirsten’ and ‘Tea for Felicity.’ It was pretty clearly time for Molly’s,” said McCarthy.

Auditions took place just two weeks before the lunchbox. Everyone got in a circle and talked about their American Girl Doll memories. “‘From Inner Worlds’ submissions where full of intense recollections of surrounding American Girl Dolls and so our audition was a great place to talk about that,” said McCarthy.

“It was hilarious, a great break in the day,” said first-year Olivia Johnson, proud owner of Addie, Felicity and one of the series’ “Just Like Me” dolls. “I remember doing odd jobs for my parents to earn the dolls. They meant a lot to me, I’m definitely giving them to my own kids,” said Johnson.

It would have been difficult for any pre-adolescent girl growing up in the ’90s to escape the billion dollar company’s marketing reach. The “empire” now includes movie deals, book and play series, magazines and three huge stores nationwide. The “American Girl Place” sets up the historical scenes of each character, puts on musicals and is complete with a bistro where girls can dine with their dolls. “It’s a madhouse. The girls really love their dolls. They throw them birthday parties, take them out to dinner and even treat them to a doll hair salon,” said summer employee of the Los Angeles American Girl Store, Caitlin Scanlan.

While Whitman students don’t venerate the dolls with photo shoots or doll sized diplomas, the annual production doesn’t seem to be going out of style anytime soon. “The American girl doll plays are a staple tradition of the theater department. I alone am not responsible for the absurdity, only the perpetuating of it,” said McCarthy.