If you’ve ever been a teenage girl, you’re likely to identify with at least one of the three 14-year-olds who comprise the trio “the Skanks,” in Lachlan Philpott’s “Truck Stop,” an American premiere by Crowded Fire Theater.
The story, partly told to us by the girls themselves as they’re acting it out, was inspired by a real-life report of two teenage prostitutes at highway rest stops in Australia.
Set in a remote Australian suburb full of garbage, flies, chain-link fences and roaring freeways (well represented by Maya Linke’s purposefully dreary scenic design and Brendan Aanes’ sound effects), the drama follows, in non-linear fashion, the downward spiral of the schoolmates as they struggle haplessly for a sense of self-worth.
Bad girl Sam (a fully committed performance by Jessica Lynn Carroll), the sexy and rageful ringleader who imagines herself as “Princess,” seems to entirely lack a moral compass or sense of empathy.
Despite misgivings, her lifelong BF, Kelly (a spot-on Chelsea Looy, an actual teenager), follows closely in charismatic Sam’s wake, as teenage sidekicks will do.
New girl at school Aisha (sweet-faced Jamie Asdorian, utterly convincing), from Bangalore, is a naïve outsider who’s pleased to be invited join the pair and accepts her status — and being called “Curry” by Sam — with equanimity.
In various roles — from school nurse to teenage boy to Indian mother and more — Jeri Lynn Cohen is, as always, beautifully understated.
It’s painful to watch as, with adolescent hubris and a longing to find their place among their peers, the girls reject the best efforts of some of the adults, who are mostly clueless but concerned, around them.
“Everyone needs protection,” warns Aisha’s concerned, old-world Mum. At another time, vulnerable Kelly cries, “Who have I got? Who will protect me?”
It’s disconcerting to watch these unformed girls flailing.
Philpott interweaves the characters’ natural-sounding dialogue (although spoken without the Aussie accents the script clearly requires for most of them) with their direct address to the audience: terse, quasi-poetic, rapid-fire speech that provides narration and also evokes sensorial detail. The mix works well to tell this disturbing tale of teenage girls beholden to the misguided dreams, sexism and superficial values promoted by their culture.
Thanks to director Marilee Talkington’s well-paced staging, and her attention to full and carefully drawn characters, the intermissionless show is engaging throughout.
Presented by Crowded Fire Theater
Where: Thick House, 695 18th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; closes Oct. 24
Tickets: $15 to $35
Contact: (415) 746-9238, www.crowdedfire.org