There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock, Griffin Theatre Company. This awkwardly moralistic after-school special of a play is interesting for the feeling of abject dread it engenders rather than what it says about teenage savagery. The truest moments in William Massolia’s adaptation of Jerry Spinelli’s young-adult novel seem to unfold in slow motion, one excruciating moment after another–a pitch-perfect recapitulation of the junior high stew of fear and angst. But though There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock rages softly against the patriarchy, it offers some rather mixed messages about gender roles. The story concerns an eighth grader named Maisie Potter who wants to win the affections of a popular jock and tries out for the wrestling team. As a result she’s ostracized, punished for being headstrong and impetuous–the sort of feel-bad ending generally reserved for Victorian novels and Sunday-school sermons.
Massolia’s purposeful adaptation rearranges certain facts, streamlining a narrative that spirals out of control by the end of the book. He also heightens the story’s turmoil with some sense-assaulting double casting–Maisie’s supportive family members and her backstabbing antagonists are played by the same actors. Director Richard Barletta employs a few too many blackouts, giving the production a choppy, episodic feel untrue to the script. Still, he and Massolia have admirably designed a show for the toughest of audiences–though it may speak more loudly to the adults than to its preteen target demographic.