—Originally published February 13, 2017—
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 Imagine U’s production of “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” adapted from the book by Kate DiCamillo. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
“I’ve been crying too much at shows lately,” Eleanor said.
Gwen laughed as she watched her friend dry her eyes with a sleeve. “Yeah, first Body Awareness and now this.”
“Can I help it if everything going up this quarter is designed to make me emotional?” Eleanor asked. “It’s all so magically sweet, it’s like watching a small child discover the true meaning of Christmas, or whatever. Can you blame me if I cry when everything I watch is pulling my heartstrings like a damn harp?”
“I guess not,” Gwen said, smiling at the image.
“Hold on, I want to tell the actors they did such a great job,” Dania said, walking up onto the stage.
“Okay, okay,” Eleanor said, but as Gwen followed Dania up, Eleanor figured it would be quicker to congratulate the actors as well, even if she didn’t know them personally.
After a few minutes of hugs, handshakes, and smiling, the Girls eventually made their way out of the Wallis Theatre and began their complex journey through the labyrinth of the Wirtz Center Under Construction.
“That was…probably one of my favorites I’ve seen overall,” Dania said, immediately jumping in to talk about the show.
“It really was excellently done,” Gwen said. “The ensemble worked to shift into all those different characters so quickly, with such simple costume changes.”
“And the music!” Dania said. “That one guy playing all the different instruments, and also doing Edward’s voice!”
“Like the whole thing was going on in his head,” Eleanor added, “or like we’re hearing all the music from his point of view.”
“It’s just…aaagh!” Dania said. “All the children! All the children!”
“That’s why you always go to an 11am performance for Imagine U shows,” Gwen said.
“Well, that,” Eleanor added, “and because they don’t sell out immediately like the late shows do.”
“And there weren’t any kids crying or talking during it either,” Dania continued. “They were all paying attention, because it was good.”
“The script is very well crafted,” Gwen said. “The doubling keeps all the characters feeling like one community, despite everyone being separate and the stories not connecting to each other.”
“I wonder why they chose to do that,” Eleanor said. “Rather than make it some big ensemble piece.”
“Because they — I just said why, Eleanor,” Gwen said. “Community building.”
“I was wondering, actually,” Dania said, “were there any other animals besides the dog?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, there’s a dog, and it’s played by a human, obviously it’s just a person acting like a dog. You know, there’s no costume or whatever…”
“Phoebe Moore,” Gwen added. “An excellently adaptable performer.”
“Okay, but, like, were there other animals?” Dania continued. “Because when she came on it felt weird. Because, you know, if there’s no other animals besides this rabbit, and suddenly now people are animals too…”
“It breaks the rules the world sets up?” Gwen asked.
“It just felt strange,” Dania said. “Although the kids liked it, so whatever. I liked it, and especially the hobo as well.”
“Bull,” Eleanor said. “I liked him a lot. He’s so optimistic, with the marching around and singing. It was awful when he got separated from Edward – I liked him the most, I think.”
“I did too,” Dania added. But her nose scrunched up a moment later. “Oh, maybe I liked the tall puppeteer guy the most.”
“Oh, right!” Eleanor said, remembering the second act again. “What was his name?”
“Grady Jensen,” Gwen responded.
“He had a last name?”
“Oh, wait, no, that’s the actor,” Gwen clarified. “I don’t remember his name, I just remember him as Grady Jensen.”
“Well, he was delightful,” Eleanor continued. “Jumping around with the harmonica and moving the rabbit up and down.”
“It was all delightful, all of it,” Dania added. “It’s just fun and sweet and makes me want to go out and live life better, or something like that.”
“Don’t be afraid to love, Dania!” Eleanor said, laughing at the standard, and yet timeless, message of the story. “Don’t be afraid to love!”
“It’s not that revolutionary a message,” Gwen said, with some hesitancy. “But it’s presented in such a clean and honest way that I can’t really criticize it.”
“I mean, what would you criticize, it’s great!” Dania said.
“If you asked,” Gwen began.
“Here we go.” Eleanor rolled her eyes.
“I wouldn’t have anything major to add,” Gwen said, eyeing her friends. “Just that the framing device with the grandmother is a little confusing. How does she understand that Edward isn’t loving Abilene at the start?”
“It’s just something that old grandmothers know?” Eleanor suggested.
“Does it really matter in a fairy tale?” Dania asked. “It is basically just a modern fairy tale, right?”
“I suppose,” Gwen said.
“And I really liked the person who played the grandmother, and Abilene too!” Dania said. “Especially considering the age range, how they had to go from being so young to so old at the end. Abilene, I mean.”
“Yeah, she’s pretty good at that,” Eleanor said. “And the grandmother playing the narrator throughout the whole thing, leading us all along.”
“There might have been a little too much exposition in some parts,” Gwen started.
“When Edward is drowning, I don’t necessarily need to be told, ‘Edward drowned’ at the same time as a dance sequence showing him drowning.”
“It’s not just telling us he’s drowning, Gwen,” Eleanor said. “You should know that.”
“Yeah,” Dania chimed in. “It’s not saying he drowned, it’s like, ‘over and under the waves he bobbed and floated until he was settling at the bottom of the cold and dark sea’ or something like that.”
“Is it necessary, though?” Gwen asked. “That’s the question.”
“Of course it’s necessary!”
“It is any less necessary than having the entire set be a few boxes?” Eleanor said. “I mean, they could have done it with a more literal set design, sure. But would it have been as fun?”
“Hm. I guess not,” Gwen said.
“It’s like, I didn’t always follow what was going on,” Dania said. “There’s not a plot or anything that covers the entire script. It’s just a bunch of scenes. But I enjoyed all the scenes, and I got the message, so why not throw in some flowery language from the book?”
“It’s like you’re always saying, Gwen,” Eleanor added. “I definitely enjoyed the way they did things almost as much as how they did them. The process, watching them put the story together, is just as interesting as the story they were telling. I liked watching Edward’s story, but also the actors’ story.”
“True,” Gwen said. “The visible theatricality of the show adds another layer that helps give the play a stronger narrative than just what’s in the book.”
“And all the actors were so good at what they did!” Dania said. “I have a hard time naming a favorite, since so many of them were funny. The old woman with the basket at the top of Act II I really liked.”
“Yeah!” Eleanor said. “Was that the person who turned him into a scarecrow, or the one who treated him like a doll/daughter thing?”
“I think the first one…” Dania guessed. “Or maybe…I don’t know, was it the same actress?”
“Mariah Copeland, yes,” Gwen said. “I’m pretty sure she played Grady’s grandmother and wife in the same show.”
“Didn’t even think of that,” Dania said. “But yeah.”
“Well, Abilene plays the child and adult versions of herself, that’s something,” Eleanor said.
“That’s true,” Gwen said. “It’s funny: Rosie Jo Neddy is a really fine dramatic actress, when you put her in a dramatic role. But she keeps working on big ensemble musicals in supporting roles: Sweet Charity, Hair, Waa-Mu, Gypsy, it goes on. I wonder how she’ll fare when she gets out into the real world after graduation.”
“Is she a senior?” Eleanor asked.
“Yes,” Gwen said, adding, “and she’s already done a few professional things, I think. But as a dancer.”
“Well, if you’re good at one specific thing…” Dania shrugged.
“That’s not it, though,” Gwen said. “None of them are good at only one thing, the whole cast. Noah LaPook is a fantastic composer as well as a performer. Mariah was a Heather in Heathers and is also on Spectrum, doing theatre for social change. Amy Nadal was in that Macbeth reading last year.”
“You know it.”
“Well,” Dania continued. “As someone who didn’t recognize the actors – you know, like the children would – I enjoyed it a lot. Lots of good performers and a heartaching little story to get me through the hell that is Week 6.”
“You’re telling me,” Eleanor said. “Can someone please pull me out of the bottom of the ocean and give me a new dress? Please and thank you.”
“That’s the real message,” Dania added. “Your truest friends are the ones who will schlep you around in a burlap bag and tell you secrets.”
“That’s, that’s probably not the…” Gwen stammered.
“Oh, lighten up, Gwen,” Dania said. “It’s all in good fun.”
“Open your heart to love,” Eleanor said.
“Exactly!” Dania said. “Open your heart to love, Gwen. If you don’t, an angry chef will break your face.”
“Another universal moral,” Eleanor said, with a wry smile.