In Cassie Beacham’s The Saddest Girl In The World, standoffish, depressed El (Noa May Dorn) lives with her mother, unable to hold down a job or venture outside due to a tragic car accident years ago that killed her father and sent her through the windshield. Her apocalypse-preoccupied mother, Rita (Cathy Gordon), unable to understand her child’s neuroses, snaps and demands rent money, possibly to pay for the gas masks and canned goods she keeps stored in the closet. Enter two young room-renters, one handsome, one shy, writers of ludicrously unsuccessful screenplays. El decides that the oldest profession doesn’t require opening her front door and proceeds to con the boys into exchanging money for sex.
The problem with The Saddest Girl In The World is that watching the play and reading the play’s synopsis are very similar experiences. It feels as if the synopsis was written before the play, and then the events were briefly sketched out to match, with an “and then THIS happened” quality to them. The play aspires to be a sort of psychosexual, Dangerous Liaisons-type game, but we’re mostly left wondering how two starving artists can come up with $500 in sex money.
The play comes alive in dreamscape scenes between El and the deer who plunged through the windshield of her family’s car. These manage to be surreal, sad, and very funny, thanks to a stuffed deer and some nice voice work by Justin Bott, who also effectively plays Bently, the sweeter, more naïve of the two roommates. In a different dreamscape, Rita’s silent horrors of violent gas-masked men have eye-catching and genuinely unsettling elements, but as a whole are somewhat heavy-handed, particularly coming after a precious, self-consciously theatrical silent opening (full disclosure: this style choice by director Melissa Major is simply a personal pet peeve).
The characters, though mostly difficult to warm to, have intriguing quirks that raise them above cliché, and El’s tragic reveal is nicely detailed. There is some humour found in the notion of learning Irish and some truly (intentionally) terrible screenplay writing. There are some early timing issues, but otherwise the actors acquit themselves well.
The Saddest Girl In The World is a lofty titular claim to make, skirting the line between hyperbole and irony. Unfortunately, the nuance just isn’t there to make the claim for either.