At a certain point in every girl’s life, something special happens. It starts around the time she decides she’s too old for dolls and starts thinking the short gangly boys in her class are cute rather than annoying. No, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the ever-important artifact that shapes every preteen girl’s self-image and personality: her diary.
Now, most girls’ diaries fall into the same category as mine: riveting to the owner, less-than-intriguing to anyone else (aside from pesky siblings and mothers). Filled with such thrilling entries as, “Today I got in a fight with Jenna. She wouldn’t share her American Girl doll dresses. She’s mean and I never want to play with her again,” it’s no surprise that most diaries end up on the bottom of a box at the bottom of a closet in the spare bedroom in your parents’ house. At most, they merit a quick rereading for giggles. But they certainly aren’t worthy of being made into an actual book—unless you’re 13-year-old Clotilde “Coco” Irvine.
Coco received her diary as a Christmas present in 1927, and for one full year documented everything from her rebellious bouts at school (who steals silverware?) to her love interest. What makes her diary more special than those of other little girls? Coco was the daughter of Horace Irvine, the wealthy lumberman who built a 20-room estate at 1006 Summit Avenue in St. Paul for his family to live in—a house that today is the governor’s mansion. Turns out, seeing 1920s St. Paul through the eyes of a wealthy teenage girl is more entertaining than you might think…and certainly more entertaining than anything you wrote about at 13.
Author and former Star Tribune reporter Peg Meier came across Coco’s diary in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society a couple years ago, and, in 2011, had the University of Minnesota Press republish it as Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age. Then she got in touch with Bob Beverage and Ron Peluso, who adapted the book into Coco’s Diary, the play that opened this past weekend at the Minnesota History Theatre.
Andrea Wollenberg (Adult Coco and ensemble), Anna Evans, and Kacie Riddle (Young Coco, on alternating nights), and Jake Endres (Coco’s brother, Tom, and ensemble) form the cast, acting out the scenes being read aloud by Adult Coco from her diary. It’s a clever way to give life to something as ordinary as a preteen girl’s diary, but the person who really deserves credit for making the show entertaining is Coco herself. Her witty, wry sense of humor and constant appetite for adventure make the diary what it is: an interesting and humorous peek into the past, with a splash of teenage angst for good measure.
Through March 25
History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul, 651-292-4323