‘Of a Mirror and Its Fragments:’ a reflection on grief and loss

November 15, 2019

On Friday, Nov. 8, the first performance ever of “Of a Mirror and Its Fragments” premiered in the Merrick Theater. Written by Brandeis’ own Olivia Ellson ’21, the thirty-minute show is an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” Ellson’s adaptation does more than simply adapt the old story into a modern setting but uses the original fairy tale to contextualize its own story. 

While Amber Crossman ’21 directed the show, Ellson remained involved throughout the show’s production. The final result was presented as a stage reading, in which the actors held their scripts on stage, culminating in a Q&A session at the end where the audience was encouraged to give feedback on the show. Crossman stated in her director’s note that the stage reading format of the show allowed the cast and playwright to better understand the script and edit it during the rehearsal process. In fact, the performance itself seemed like it was an extension of the rehearsal process, this time involving audience input.

Despite the immersion breaking aspect of the stage reading, the cast’s in-depth understanding of the piece really made each of their performances shine. The plot of the play focuses on Grace, played by Casey Bachman ’21, who is mourning for her friend Kara, played by Morgan Silcox ’22, who recently took her own life. The play is told out of chronological order, with the opening scene taking place after Kara’s funeral and later scenes showing the events leading up to her death. The structure represents how Grace is reflecting on the past events that led to her friend’s suicide in order to come to terms with her death.

Both Bachman and Silcox give stellar performances. In particular, the former expertly utilizes physicality to convey deeper emotions. In one scene, Kara’s grandmother, played by Lindsay Dawes ’21, is offstage consulting a police officer on her granddaughter disappearance. During this scene, Bachman is left alone onstage and at one point even has her back facing the audience. Despite this, Bachman clearly conveyed the growing dread and sadness her character feels through her body language. Furthermore, the onstage chemistry between Bachman and Silcox makes the friendship seem realistic, often even without the use of dialogue. The show makes good use of dramatic silences and moments where Grace and Kara interact wordlessly, while not overdoing it to the point where it feels awkward or forced.

Grace’s reflection of her friendship with Kara is connected to “The Snow Queen,” through the narrator, also played by Dawes. The audience does not need prior knowledge of the fairytale to understand the show because the narrator gives a simple overview of the events of the tale in at the beginning of the show. Throughout the rest of “Of a Mirror and Its Fragments,” the narrator returns and connects scenes to a part of the original tale.

Ellson’s adaptation does more than simply mirror parts of the original tale, it uses the source material to connect the modern retelling with the original story. For example, several key images from the source material are represented in the play as props. Prominent objects of the old story like the red shoes, roses, and the mirror are shown in this adaptation. 

Of course, the mirror plays a significant role in the story as its fracturing coincides with Kara’s death. This mirror also marks the key difference between the original tale and this adaptation. In Andersen’s tale, a girl named Gerda seeks to rescue her friend Kai from the grasp of the titular Snow Queen. In the end, the boy Kai is tasked with solving a puzzle using ice shards on a frozen lake called the Mirror of Reason, to create a word that will free him the Ice Queen’s spell. Eventually, Gerda ends up saving Kai through the power of love. But since Ellson’s version revolves around Grace’s reflection on past events, the audience already knows the fate of her friend. Knowing the tragedy of Kara’s story changes Grace’s purpose. Instead of a heroine desperately trying to save her friend, Grace is a heroine trying to understand why she couldn’t. Instead of Kara recontrusting the fractured mirror, it is Grace who puts the mirror back together after her friend’s death.

“Of a Mirror and Its Fragments” is not simply a modern adaption of an old fairy tale. It uses its fantastical source material to convey a very realistic story about grief and loss. While the show may only be 30 minutes, the story it needs to tell speaks volumes.

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