—Originally published February 16, 2015—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “The Alligators,” a new play by A.J. Roy presented by Vertigo Productions. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
“I thought the second act was weird!” said Eleanor, putting her coat back on.
“I mean, the program lists the second act as only ‘feverish lyricism,’” Gwen responded, pulling on a beanie. “Only the third act goes to full absurdism.”
“I know, but…still.” Eleanor stepped carefully around a pile of tossed purple spaghetti, trying not to let it stick to the bottom of her boots.
“Well, I thought it was really funny,” Dania said, sticking her program in her coat pocket.
“Funny, sure,” Gwen said. “But there’s a lot of seriousness to what it’s saying about wealth, about ambition…”
“About mini golf,” Eleanor added.
With a look, Gwen included the comment. “Yes, about mini golf. The all-American pastime.”
The three girls, Dania still zipping up her jacket, walked out of the Louis Room in Norris. It was strangely late — the show having ended after two and a half hours, a behemoth of a production for StuCo, which normally specialized in 90-minute intermission-less works.
Gwen, as usual, began the conversation. “I don’t even know what angle to come at this show from. It’s…”
“Really strange,” Dania added.
“Well, obviously. But it’s absurd, there’s a meaning to it.”
“I just like the orientation of the space,” said Eleanor. “That’s the first time a show has made us move halfway through it. I liked that.”
“I don’t know…” Dania hesitated in her response. “I got paranoid that I was leaving a coat or something in the other room.”
Gwen continued. “Well, they couldn’t have fit that golf course into the smaller half of the Louis, could they?”
“I mean,” Eleanor said, “with the golf course they built, it probably could have.”
“Yeah, not gonna lie,” said Gwen. “The golf course was a little underwhelming.”
Dania stopped and looked at them. “What do you mean underwhelming? I thought the golf course was one of the coolest parts of the show! All those different segments all over the stage…it really looked like a mini-golf course!”
“Yeah, but when Maggie Monahan posts on Facebook that she needs help building ‘a full mini golf course,’ it gets your hopes up pretty high.”
“Well, part of that was you just didn’t see it for an entire act,” Eleanor added.
“That’s true. But waiting for that back wall to open gave me anxiety throughout the entire first act.”
“You knew the wall was going to open?!” Dania said, shocked.
“Oh, of course,” said Gwen. “No one is going to only use that much of the Louis Room. Didn’t you see the tech table was oriented between the two halves? Of course it was going to open!”
“Woah.” Dania pulled her program out of her pocket. “Who was the guy who played the Burger Guy?”
“Denny? Or Danny?” Eleanor had left her program in the theatre. “Which one is it?”
“Denny,” Dania answered. “Played by Matt Rule…Ruhel…Rulehe…”
“Matt Ruehlman,” said Gwen.
“Oh. Is he a freshman?”
“I’m pretty sure he’s a transfer sophomore.”
“Ah. He did a really nice job.”
“Definitely,” Gwen agreed. “I thought he did a nice job being the only stable person in what was, essentially, a mad tea party of capitalism.”
“He’s the only character in all three acts, right?” Eleanor asked. “I mean, besides the two dudes, obviously.”
“Ugh.” Gwen sighed. “Daniel Stompor and Sam Douglas. What even are you?”
“I really liked them in the first act,” Dania said.
“I liked them in the whole show!” Eleanor said, slowly remembering more and more beyond the final act. “The strength it takes to go from realism into lyricism and then to absurdism in less than three hours…that’s crazy. Those guys are fantastic.”
“Plus watching them fight in their underwear…” Dania thought back as well. “I’m not going to say that wasn’t enjoyable.”
“Oh, the sexual tension throughout the entire show was off the charts!” Gwen added in. “Didn’t you see that Lloyd totally wanted to bang his daughter?”
“What?” Dania stopped again in shock.
“I was getting that vibe a little bit. I kind of wished she had been in the third act to really clarify that,” Eleanor added in.
“But, like, even in the first act…he was all over her!”
“Maybe. But not as much.”
“I mean, obviously. It’s clearer when he’s dumping pecans at her feet and buying her a crown,” Gwen said, before stopping for a moment. “Speaking of which, the pecan scene. The pecan scene!”
Eleanor laughed a little. “I loved that scene. Like, that’s the entire show right there.”
“Was that the one where he was in a bathrobe the entire time?” Dania tried to remember the moment through all the colored lights and loud noise.
“Yeah, where he’s eating pecans off the ground and trying to bang his daughter?”
“Oh, yeah. Hmm…” Dania thought about Sam Douglas’ chest and put a hand to her own. “That boy needs to be shirtless more.”
“Dania!” Eleanor hit her. “Stop it!”
“What?” Dania laughed it off. “I’m just saying. Didn’t you see his chest?”
“Yes. I did.”
The girls were nearly reaching Annie May Swift now, turning the corner away from Deering Meadow. The wind kicked up, blowing blisteringly into the girls’ faces, and scattering Dania’s program into the bushes.
“Oh, no,” Dania said, turning her back to the wind.
“Come on, Dania,” Gwen said impatiently, pulling her hood up over her ears.
Dania retrieved her program, slightly damp but in one piece, and returned to the path.
“Oh, the dirt got all over A.J. Roy’s name.” Dania dusted it off with a gloved hand.
“That boy’s a good writer,” Gwen said as they started walking again.
“I think so. The show needs work, but…”
“Oh, of course it needs work. Vertigo is all about new work, nothing there is ever finished.”
“…Yeah, but, I want to see it finished.” Eleanor said. “Remember ‘Lilliput Troupe?’”
“That’s Gaby’s play from last year, right?”
“That was dark.”
“But yeah,” Eleanor continued. “Like, ‘Lilliput’ felt finished more than this did. But I want to see this one again some other time.”
“What, you didn’t like the production?” Dania said, rifling through the program again.
“No, I did. I actually thought it was impressively good. Maggie Monahan’s a brilliant director.”
“Agreed,” Gwen said. “Anyone who can direct in three different styles deserves praise. And she nailed it.”
“I saw her during the show. Did you?”
“No, where was she?”
“On the close-to-the-lake side of the room. She was reacting really actively to everything.”
“Oh, over there.” Gwen thought about the room, then about Maggie. “Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me.”
After a pause, Gwen continued.
“Didn’t really get why the golf course was in all those shapes though…”
“Yeah, I was thinking about that,” Eleanor added.
“Well, it’s like, a mini golf course,” Dania said. “You know, how the courses are always weirdly shaped so it’s hard to hit the ball…”
“I know, I know that,” Gwen said. “But, like, there was very clearly a cross, an L, a J, a vagina…”
“Question mark! There was a question mark!” Eleanor said, remembering again.
“Right, the question mark too…”
“Which one was the vagina?” Dania said in disbelief.
“The one that had the pirate ship on it. Take away the ship and it’s totally a vagina. No question.”
“I mean,” Eleanor said, slowing down. “I’m not sure that was intended, necessarily.”
“Who knows? It’s absurdism,” said Gwen.
“I liked the girl who played the wife. She did a nice job.”
“Lucy Ahlborn? She crushed it. Easily one of the best performances this year.”
“Pity she didn’t get to talk more in the second act,” Eleanor said, kicking some snow on the ground.
“But that’s the point!” Gwen shot back. “She’s being silenced by her husband and the power of money in a society that wants only trophy wives attached to powerful businessmen! Not having her speak was a brilliant move!”
“She did speak once,” Dania added.
Gwen conceded. “Yes, once, but it was all about what I just said. Didn’t you hear, ‘am I only recognizable in relation to my husband’ or something like that? The writing was genius.”
“The whole first act was just fantastic! The daughter and Burger Guy had history, and that tied into the relationship with David and his son, which was about the wife and the golf course…”
Gwen cut Eleanor off. “Oh, the entire first act was this painful little Gordian knot of drama! You could cut that part off and show it as a one act, it was so good!”
“I mean, you wouldn’t want to, the second and third acts are kind of important.”
“I still don’t get the third act,” Dania said.
“Well, it’s absurdism,” Gwen started to explain.
“I know that, but, isn’t it supposed to mean something?”
“It did, it did! It was all the drama between the relationships from the first two acts supplanted onto these two guys. The show’s ultimately about them, not the rest of everyone.”
“Then why was he speaking in French for that one part?”
“Sam Douglas. He was definitely speaking in French at one point. Saying ‘Will you drink with me tonight? Listen to me. Listen to me…’”
“I mean,” Gwen said, defending herself, “it’s absurdism, I can’t explain it all directly after seeing it.”
Dania shrugged. “Okay.”
“On the whole though,” Eleanor said, trying to wrap things up, “I liked the show. It’s not perfect, but I do want it to get better and grow. Did you see that A.J. put his email in the program to get feedback?”
“Yes, I love that!” Gwen exclaimed. “I’m gonna go and write him an email right now! I have so much to say about it!”
“Well, that’s Vertigo for you,” said Eleanor. “It’s a springboard for shows like this one. I hope A.J. keeps working with it, I really think he’s onto something.”
“Maybe they could do it again next year!”
“He’s a senior, I don’t think he’ll be back.”
“But, you know, maybe he’ll do it in Chicago. I’d see that.”
“Absolutely.” Gwen looked up from her phone, already typing out her email to A.J.
“But, I mean, it was still a good show, right?” Dania asked.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. I had a blast watching it, and I’m pretty sure that was the intent.” Eleanor silently wished she hadn’t left her program. “There’s so many shows on campus that sacrifice entertainment value for the power of ‘saying something important,’ and this show manages to kind of do both. I love that about it.”
“It’s a little cluttered,” said Gwen, resolving to write a longer email later, “but I see the potential there. Though, to be honest, they could have built a better set for the show.”
“I mean, it had to be able to flip over and become the third act absurdist land.”
“Well, yeah, but still. They could have really filled Louis with, like, hills and windmills and stuff. And what if the absurdist room had been in the same place as Act I? That would have had an entirely different meaning!”
“That’s directorial criticism, though. That’s just asking for it to be done differently.”
“Well, sure, but I want to see this show done differently! Not because this one was bad, but because it’s such a show where you can do that!”
“I agree, sure.”
“Yeah.” Gwen paused again. “Lighting cues were a little slow as well…”
“Will you stop with criticizing the production values?”
“I just liked it for how crazy it got,” said Dania. “Even when I didn’t totally get it, it was still really fun to watch.”
“Sure. But, I mean, it is really well written. It just needs polish.”
“Of course.” Eleanor unlocked the door to their apartment.
“It’s tapping into something at the heart of America itself. The capitalism. The consumerism. People’s lust for the bottom dollar above love for other people.”
“And mini golf.”
“Sure, Dania. And mini golf.”