“So if you’re from Africa, why are you white?” a solemn Nate Huether ’15 asked Michael Goodman ’13 this past weekend during the Production Workshop’s unique script reading of Mean Boys, a spin-off of the popular movie “Mean Girls.” The cast read the entire film script with one key difference - the genders of the roles were flipped.
As the audience laughed, the actors played on in all seriousness, each reciting the lines of his “Mean Girls” character, engrossed in the catastrophes of the high-school movie drama that has come to mark a generation.
Tristan Rodman ’15 and Tarek Shoukri ’15, the production’s co-producers and directors, were inspired to put on the reading by a series of table reads of movies organized by director Jason Reitman at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Rodman attended a reading of “The Big Lebowski” featuring Seth Rogan and promptly told Shoukri about the experience.
The pair sought to find a screenplay that would particularly resonate with the student body, and after much thought, they chose “Mean Girls.”
“Right now, (‘Mean Girls’) is just being recognized as the classic high school movie for our generation,” Rodman said. “It’s an awesome movie. It’s really fun and lighthearted. It’s fast-paced and not too long.”
The pair said they needed to choose a script that would be recognizable by a student audience. “Everybody knows a bunch of lines, and there are ironic moments around every corner,” Rodman said. “We thought it would be a lot more fun than something more serious or more action-heavy.”
But choosing a funny script was not enough, since they didn’t want the production to be just “a cheap and not as good reenactment of the screenplay,” Shoukri said. Gender-swapping all the roles “seemed to be the perfect twist,” he said.
“It was cool to see the gender roles reversed because it’s behavior that you associate so much with high school girls,” said audience member Andy Triedman ’15.
As the audience filed into the Upspace, the familiar “Mean Girls” soundtrack blasted from the speakers. As Rodman and Shoukri ushered in each actor, the audience laughed in anticipation, which culminated in outright hysteria when the tall and robust Greg Nissan ’15, who played Head Plastic Regina George, strutted out in a full pink velour sweatsuit, a popular high school trend in the early 2000s.
The stage directions – read aloud by Rodman and Shoukri – were a welcome addition to the production. Written by Tina Fey, each scene set-up was described with such humor that it made the lack of an actual set worthwhile. The audience exploded in laughter as Gretchen was described as having a “sniveling, whiny face,” Janice and Damian as having “a contest to see who could hold more ham on their faces” and Aaron Samuels as “running daintily like a gazelle.”
But it was the actors’ unique interpretation of the script that prompted the most laughter. The actors interpreted the table read differently, adapting and changing their characters throughout, making the read a study in character development.
“Characters being portrayed in a different light can make it interesting to see how something you are so familiar with can be transformed,” Shoukri said.
“A lot of the fun is realizing how much of the character resides on the page versus in the actor,” Rodman said.
While some of the actors mimicked the actors of “Mean Girls” – Goodman, whom Triedman referred to as “sincere and girly,” was a dead ringer for Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron – others were more liberal with their roles, putting their individual spins on the characters.
While the whole cast added to the read’s humor, other standouts included Sarah Weiss ’15 – whose rap as mathlete Kevin Gnapoor incited raucous audience applause – and Jack Usher ’15, who perkily chimed in as both Regina’s and Cady’s mother, varying his tone with what Triedman called “great comedic delivery.” Nissan managed to perfect Regina’s valley-girl self, and Cheno Pinter ’14, who played Damian, exaggerated the loud, dramatic character to make him even more endearing.
“The more it went on, the more ridiculous it was, but the funnier it became,” said Katie Bommarito ’15, an audience member.
Another benefit of the table read was the sense of casualness and intimacy it created. “It’s not too serious if you screw something up,” Rodman said. “Everybody is taking it in stride. It’s really light-hearted.”
This evidenced itself when Goodman, playing Heron, accidentally said he fed Regina 500,000 calories a day instead of 5,000. When both the cast and audience laughed at this, Goodman played along. “I just like lolzing you,” he said.
This informality made the audience feel more at ease, to the extent that most members joined in with the Plastics as they sang “Jingle Bell Rock.”