The old theater adage says to never work with children or animals, but in Daffodil Girls at Fun House Theatre and Film, these children are animals. Hyper-ambitious and supremely focused, the girls—who range in age from seven to 14—are essentially embodying David Mamet’s dog-eat-dog play Glengarry Glen Ross, adapted and directed by Jeff Swearingen from a concept by Bren Rapp
Jeff and Bren are the driving force behind Fun House, a theater troupe comprised mainly of adolescents that does some decidedly un-childish work. Their version of Hamlet earlier this year made many view the classic in a whole new way, and now this take on an iconic piece of American theater (and an even more revered movie starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, and Alec Baldwin) is once again proving that Fun House productions are anything but child’s play.
Instead of testosterone-fueled go-getters hustling real estate, Daffodil Girls transplants the premise to a troupe of Girl Scout-like little girls hawking cookies. It’s a brilliant switch, and realizing how many parallels exist between the cut-throat world of adult business and the vicious realm of preteen girls is eerie.
What’s even eerier is the talent that’s on display. They may be young, but the cast is made up of genuine actors, many of whom I wouldn’t be surprised to see doing great things onstage professionally in a few more years. In particular, Kennedy Waterman displays an astonishing range as Shelly (the Jack Lemmon role). Anxious for a great sale because she believes her success will reunite her divorced parents, Shelly exists on adrenaline and desperation. Waterman mines those emotions and lets the audience see her raw fear, even conjuring that holy grail of child acting—real tears—near the end.
But this is an ensemble show, and the remainder of the girls don’t disappoint. As the prickly Dana, Lynley Glicker is jumpy and hilariously cutting with her insults (Mamet’s famously salty language has been appropriately altered but is no less acerbic). Lizzy Greene struts with confidence as Raimi Roma, the golden girl of the “patch” who’s on track to win the big-seller prize: a pony party. With her huge eyes and trembling lower lip, Piper Cunningham knows how to milk each line as the seemingly innocent Georgina. Lending a bit of semi-adult presence are Marisa Mendoza as troupe leader Willa and Laney Neumann as Blayne, who forcefully reminds us that “Kool-Aid is for closers.”
Within a splendidly detailed tree house set by Joseph Cummings, the tension mounts and the consciously ironic laughs multiply. It would be easy to dismiss this show as a gimmick if its inherent intelligence didn’t work so darn well. Another well-known theater trope is that you can’t go wrong with a bunch of adorable, smart-mouthed kids, but it’s even better when those kids are actually saying something smart.