—Originally Published April 27, 2015—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Imagined up 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 “Moon & Back,” a new play by Samantha Mueller presented by Vertigo Productions. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
As the Hanslick Girls left Shanley Pavilion, Gwen looked to her right to see Dania wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Were you crying?” Gwen asked.
“No…” said Dania. A moment passed, and she added, “a little bit.”
“It’s those family dramas,” said Eleanor, folding the program and putting it in her purse. “They get to you.”
“It wasn’t even the family. It was just that father, and the mother, and the final scene and…” Dania’s voice trailed off as she wiped a fresh tear from her face.
“I mean, I thought it was fine,” said Gwen.
Eleanor paused. “Fine?”
“I thought it was great!”
“Yeah.” Gwen looked at the uneven ground as she walked away from the theater.
“What’s wrong?” said Eleanor. “You’re quiet.”
“I’m just having a rough time putting my opinions into words,” Gwen mumbled.
“Well,” said Dania, recovering, “It certainly got me, that’s for sure.”
“That set, though,” said Eleanor. Dania made a kind of grunting awk noise.
“I didn’t know you could fit that kind of set into Shanley!” she continued, flipping through the program.
“Well, there’s Joe Entenman for you. Did you see he got thanked, like, three times in the Special Thanks? For his own show!”
“It was a great set,” Gwen added.
They walked again, quietly.
“That Christmas scene really worked, I thought,” Gwen added, suddenly.
“Oh my God, yeah! It reminded me so much of my own sister,” said Dania. “Of course, she never went to Stanford. But I would have gotten her that cup if she did!”
Eleanor laughed. “Would you have drunk with her and then collapsed?”
“Oh, no, not that part,” said Dania.
“It’s just a really well-written scene between two siblings in the same awful situation,” said Gwen. “I thought it was incredibly effective.”
“And Ryan Martin and Sophie Neff were really great in performing it.”
“Yes! They were. I thought they really got those relationships. They understood the circumstances.”
“I just liked that little seven year old boy,” said Dania. “What was his name?”
“Who, the actor? Or the character?”
“The actor was Sam Garrott,” said Eleanor. “I think the character was named Finn? Am I right?”
“It was Finn,” Gwen confirmed.
Another unusual silence floated over the conversation. Eleanor looked to Gwen, only to find her looking at her feet as she walked.
“So,” Eleanor began, “Did you like it? Regardless of how good it was, did you like it?”
“I mean…” Gwen hesitated, before slowly stating, “…no?”
“What?” Dania cried. “But it was so emotional! And the script is so sad!”
“Well, yeah, but it’s a certain type of sad…” Gwen said.
“What, like, family-drama-sad?” asked Eleanor.
Gwen looked up. “Yeah, kind of. Actually, it’s exactly that.”
“What do you mean?” Dania closed her program.
“Well, I mean…” Gwen stumbled for words. “I’m going to sound like a theatre snob, but I just…knew what was going to happen.”
“You knew about the ending?”
“No, no, not specifically the ending,” Gwen clarified. “But it’s a family drama. It follows typical family drama conventions. The family starts out slightly pulled apart by an outside issue. The members of the family slowly take sides on that issue. They all have different ways of coping with the issue that cause them all to clash. They learn more about each other. There’s a climactic moment when one of them gets hurt. I mean, there are just a lot of plays like it.”
Dania thought for a moment, and then said, “But does that make it bad?”
“No,” said Gwen, “it doesn’t make it bad. But…I’ve just seen this kind of play before, a lot, so it didn’t do much for me. That’s all.”
“But you still agree that it was well written?” asked Eleanor. “For a family drama, I mean.”
“Mostly,” Gwen responded. “I’d need to think about it more.”
“Well, what didn’t make sense?”
Gwen thought about the show, trying to pick out individual moments. “The moment where she rips the cardboard spaceship,” she finally replied. “It came too soon in the action. Plus, once it was repaired…”
“Voyager II!” Dania interjected. “Finn said it wasn’t a spaceship, it was Voyager II!”
“Okay, fine, Voyager II,” Gwen said. “Once it got repaired, it just never came up again. The reason it was included was so that it could be broken and people could mope about it. Oh, and that stupid dialogue with the father when he’s fixing it…”
“What stupid dialogue?” Eleanor asked, concerned. “With the imagined dad? I thought that part was darling!”
“Yes, that part. It’s all…”
“And that does tie into the story later on, because there’s the parallel between Finn and his brother, with seeing the dad in their mind,” Eleanor said, proud to make a point.
“Well, sure,” said Gwen. “I have nothing against that. But that dialogue, where he’s like, ‘this is the antennae of the ship, it communicates with the homebase in small amounts and at irregular intervals. It was only supposed to be gone for this length of time, but now it’s gone for a longer time…’”
Dania gasped. “Oh, it’s supposed to be the dad!”
“Of course it’s supposed to be the dad!” shouted Gwen. “It’s so obvious!”
“Well, not to me, apparently,” Dania replied, in defense.
Eleanor stepped in. “I think you’ve just seen a lot more plays than Dania, Gwen. You are probably trained to notice things like that.”
“I don’t know,” said Gwen. “It just seemed really obvious to me. There’s also a bunch of moments when the play gets a little too serious too quickly. Like the slap from the mom to the daughter…”
“I thought that was tragic!” said Dania, clutching the program and thinking about it.
“It was, but that’s the point, it was like 20 minutes into the play.”
“I think it was more like 40 or 50, to be honest,” Eleanor clarified. “And that was set up as well, with the earlier moment when she burned the older boy with the cigarette. Like, all three kids had their moment when the mom hurt them. Finn had the rocket…Voyager II, and the daughter had the slap moment, and the older kid got burned. That was probably intentional.”
“I guess,” said Gwen, looking back to the ground.
“For my money,” said Eleanor, taking control of the conversation, “I thought it was a very nicely done production of the show. I liked the staging, all the actors were really great—especially Matt Kestenbaum, he was really fantastic. While it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, I thought it was a well-told story, handled with a certain amount of care, for a story with such political significance.”
“Yeah,” Dania added. “I was tense the entire time. I had no idea what was going to happen next, but I didn’t expect it was going to get as serious as it did. That final moment with their mom and the gun?”
“That’s another thing,” said Gwen. “The fact that the gun just kind of comes out of nowhere. It just shows up for the final scene, so that the mom can shoot herself. Again, the actions of the play are only there to set up other actions, not because they flow out of the previous actions.”
Eleanor looked at Gwen as they walked. “That’s melodrama. Would you rather that the actions don’t lead to each other at all?”
“Well, no. Let me clarify.” Gwen took a breath. “It’s like there’s a domino chain, and instead of each domino knocking over another domino because it was knocked over itself — you know, in a chain and everything? — yeah, instead of that, it’s like every few dominos there’s one that just falls by itself. Why does she find the gun? Why do we suddenly bring up Stanford? Why does the point about the sand get forgotten and never really brought up again?”
“Well,” said Dania, after a moment, “that last one would be a domino falling and not hitting, wouldn’t it?”
Gwen grumbled. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“Well, maybe there is a little too much going on in the play for it to continue every single idea that it brings up. But I still hold that at the center, it’s a good play. It’s got a good message and good characters. I am…engaged in watching them.”
Gwen looked to Eleanor. “See that?” said Eleanor. “I used the word engaged when talking about theatre. I’m just like you now.”
“Yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s a new work. I’m sure Samantha would love to hear whatever opinions you have so she can make it better.”
“Also, was it in the script that they do those weird dance segments in between the scenes?” asked Dania. “Or was that just the director?”
“That’s Sean Gundersen,” Gwen sighed. “I know his directing style. I thought that worked out best for the piece.”
“It’s a little strange,” said Dania. “But I liked it.”
“Also,” said Gwen, shifting gears, “can we talk about how Lucy Ahlborn was basically playing her character from ‘The Alligators’ again?”
“I mean,” said Eleanor, “she was playing a frustrated mother. But they’re not the same character.”
“It’s what I saw.”
“Look,” said Eleanor, trying to wrap things up, “in the end, the show is pretty good. Maybe there are little things that get in the way for you, Gwen, but Dania and I liked it. We can all accept that, right?”
“Sure,” Gwen agreed. “I mean, it wasn’t bad or anything. Obviously. It’s a fine show, there’s just something about it that doesn’t click for me.”
“Well, it clicked for me,” said Dania.
“I wonder if she’ll do it again somewhere else,” Eleanor wondered aloud.
“I think she should,” Dania agreed. “Maybe they can work out the ‘issues’ and then Gwen will like it too.”
Gwen chuckled a little. “Maybe,” she said.