The Free Play Cooperative somewhat unofficially joined Family Weekend with their newest show, “Talking With…” which proved to be a touchingly emotional night of stories. Directed by Lauren Komer ’21 and Amber Ruth Crossman ’21, the production created a tender space where playwright Jane Martin’s characters could express themselves to the fullest.
“Talking With…” is a series of 11 monologues from female-identifying people, each of whom have a unique past and perspective. Simply presenting the monologues as a series, MOTH radio hour style, everything in the show comes from the characters; characters which the Free Play Theatre Cooperative thoughtfully evoked on stage to converse with their audience.
The first three characters address the performer-audience relationship in “Fifteen Minutes,” an actor (Lexie Vogel ’21) musing on an upcoming performance relaxedly talks through her subtle resentment; her audience gets to know her while she never knows them. She is followed by Nickole Sandoval ’22 as “Rodeo,” a defiant rodeo star bemoaning the commercialization and commodification of her passion. The story of the rodeo’s downfall becomes a larger message; the unjust nature of the world and how money corrupts as Sandoval slowly transitions from a reckless pacing anger to defiance and pointedly addresses the audience straight-on.
Her striking warning from the far side of success is succeeded by “Audition” (Norma Stobbe ’20) who is desperate to become a popular performer. And as her typical audition nervousness gives way to increasingly disturbing rants about classicism and she threatens to kill herself or her cat for the part, you see just how desperate she is. Stobbe undercuts the true craziness of the character somewhat, starting with standard theater-unhinged but never quite belying the passion one might expect from a suicidal feline hostage-taker (as “Audition” becomes), but this only makes the ramp-up from “are you sure you can hear me” to threatening a pet’s life more unnerving.
Rebecca Nachman ’20 as “Twirler,” a baton-twirling prodigy who lost her competition chances to injury, is similarly unnerving. She is solemnly reverential throughout her monologue, dismissing people’s preconceptions of twirling with a religious devotion to the art, a devotion which is clarified by solemn stories of rituals with razor-tipped batons and superlative achievements. When she says she can reach Jesus with her baton, she means it. It might even be true.
Yet a later monologue from the “Handler” (Jaquelyn Wycoff ’21), a snake handler raised in the tradition by her religious community, creates the exact opposite impression. With a dancing ribbon as a snake, she calmly tells the audience about the ideas behind the tradition, her elegant movements fulfilling the romance of the snake handler’s flirt with death. Yet as she describes her own experiences with the practice she gets subtly angrier until she bursts with the declaration she doesn’t believe in the religion. And this denunciation seems as understandable as the “Twirler’s” devotion.
Sophia Massidda ’20 stands out as “Dragons,” a woman giving birth alone reflecting on her choice to deliver these “dragons,” a decision her doctor disapproved of after the results of mysterious tests. Abruptly thrust into a situation no other character faces, alone on stage with only her bed lit up, “Dragons” truly seems alone. Yet in the throes of the painful creation of life, Massidda creates an impressive spirit who maintains a sense of humor while she tells a truly moving story of love and commitment between contractions.
“Clear Glass Marbles” (Sophia Lee ’21) tells a similarly moving story, inverted. Confronted by a mother with a terminal cancer diagnosis and a determination to “take to the bed,” Lee’s character tells the initially somewhat comical story of a matriarch who rules from the bed while counting down her life with a vase of clear glass marbles, rolling one out each night. Lee’s reenactment of this, rolling marbles down the stage, is a beautifully poetic gesture and lends a haunting rhythm to the story. Until the abrupt spilling of the entire vase, a sound you can feel in your gut abruptly signals a disaster and the inevitable end of the story.
After the intermission comes “Lamps,” followed by the aforementioned “Handler,” then “Scraps,” “French Fries” and “Marks.” “Lamps,” played wonderfully tragic by Sophie Welch ’20, tells the tale of a woman more comfortable in an attic filled with lights than with people, a woman who has lost tremendously and clings to her lights as a reminder of those she once loved.
“French Fries,” Jessica Rips ’22, a presumably homeless woman delivers an ode to McDonald’s where “nothing bad ever happens,” telling the story of how a fantastic series of coincidences saved a man from cerebral palsy and showing how any place that treats people with respect can become a holy community place.
“Scraps” and “Marks” present the most arresting contrast of the show. “Scraps,” played by Abby LeRoy ’20, is the story of a housewife driven to imaginarily escape to the land of Oz by her existential boredom and anxiety. Dipping in and out of imagination and panic, dressed in an elaborate Oz costume made from scraps, LeRoy’s performance is reminiscent of a more doomed version of Kushner’s Harper Pitt, trapped in urbanity by a patriarchal economy yet fated to be kicked out of the house once her escapes are discovered.
“Marks” (Casey Schryer ’21) epitomizes the opposite of this, the liberated woman, freed from a life of following society’s rules by a scar from a thief’s knife, a scar which brings her into the world of rulebreakers, poetry and an expanse of love. A dignified woman with a glass of wine detailing her subsequent tattoos and encouraging everybody to earn marks of their own, she ends the show with a captivating performance of walking on the wild side.