“I’m loving this trend happening now,” Gwen said, as they walked out of the door of Rivendell’s cozy space on Ridge Avenue. Inside, the crowds were still mingling after the performance of Interrobang’s U.S. premiere of Out Of Love, a refreshingly honest and defiantly Welsh play by Elinor Cook.
“Which trend?” Eleanor asked, reading the program as they walked. “Abstract scenic design? I’m certainly loving that.”
“Wasn’t it weird?” Dania asked. She recalled Sotirios Livaditis’ stark, slanted set –– an open but textured canvas, frame included, on which the story could be painted in rich, full strokes. “I kept wondering if they were going to fall off the side of it. It can’t be easy to focus when the whole floor is tilted.”
“You get used to a raked stage,” Eleanor commented. “It was the lighting and grabbed me. So much open space to use when the set looks like that.”
She found the lighting designer in the program: Michelle E. Benda. Paired with the ethereal soundscapes from Erik Siegling, the performance had achieved a visual dynamic that other storefronts would find difficult to match.
“I’m not talking about the design,” Gwen responded. “Fascinating as it was. I wonder what that one platform curving up in the back was.”
“I thought it gave the stage more variety, if anything,” suggested Eleanor. “Somewhere to be the bed, if they needed a bed. I mean, when the space is that open––”
“Anyway, not the design, like I said,” Gwen continued. “I’m talking about the trend of theatre focused specifically on the lives and struggles of adolescent girls.”
“Yes!” Dania chimed in. “Yes yes yes! More of that!”
“It feels like there are more than a few recent new plays about them,” Gwen said. “The Wolves, School Girls, Dry Land, Dance Nation…I know of more that are unpublished, too.”
“I wonder…” Eleanor considered. “Would you classify this as a play about young women?”
“Well, it’s about women, and they’re young during it,” Dania said, dryly. “I think that’s all you need for it to count.”
“Okay, yes, sure,” agreed Eleanor. “But compare to something like Dry Land: the dynamics of the relationship are fundamentally based on the girls being in high school. Out Of Love has its most impactful moments when Grace and Lorna are women, after their lives are their own.”
“Perhaps,” Gwen countered. “But would you say that their relationship later in life is fundamentally shaped by their relationship as children?”
Eleanor’s head bobbed back and forth for a moment, before she exhaled her agreement. “You’re not wrong,” she said. “I still have friends from high school. Middle school, even.”
“I think that’s the power of the play,” Gwen said. “It does an excellent job at portraying that Gordian knot that is adolescence: how young women need to rely on each other to stay sane, while still fighting with each other for survival.”
“I feel that,” Dania said. “I barely know how we survived.”
“We protect each other.”
“From each other.”
“I’m gonna be honest, I had trouble putting the scenes in chronological order,” Dania admitted. “Like, I think I got the general idea about what was going on, but I had trouble clocking whether the two were friends or enemies in any given scene.”
“I think they made it pretty clear pretty fast,” Eleanor said. “Not to mention, I’d argue that part of what makes the play interesting is that neither of them sometimes know whether or not they’re friends.”
“Exactly, right?” Gwen added. “I love this sort of pastoral framework, especially for this story. It’s so much more about the dynamics between Lorna and Grace, more than anything being said. I had similar struggles piecing the story together in the ‘correct’ order, but after a while I gave up and followed the emotional arcs instead. It’s much more rewarding to let the play operate on its own logic, right?”
“I guess,” Dania shuffled. “It’s just starts to bleed together after a while, doesn’t it?”
“That happens when you live in the same apartment.”
“What I mean was,” Dania pressed on, with a glare. “With the timeline so open-ended, the way they were acting seemed indistinguishable. It could have been literally any time in their lives, they just hold back the ire when they’re older.”
“Uh, yeah.” Eleanor looked to Gwen, then back to Dania. “That feels like it was absolutely intended.”
“Okay, fine, so women argue,” Dania continued. “I know that. I lived through high school, too.”
“I don’t think it’s trying to be everyone’s story of maturation,” Gwen argued. “Where would you even start trying to find universal experiences there?”
“I think there’s a universal message here,” Eleanor said.
“A message, yes,” said Gwen. “Not the action. The action is hyper-specific to these two women, and that’s why it works. We can grab onto the emotion of the characters, even if their specific actions aren’t ones we personally went through.”
“Although I will say,” Eleanor began, turning to Gwen. “There’s a few things Grace says and does in the play that would have had me breaking off the friendship for good, if I were Lorna.”
“Like what?” asked Dania.
Eleanor reflected back on the densely-packed 75-minutes, full to bursting with betrayal and bonding. Grace, rendered with fermenting anguish by Laura Berner Taylor, never ceased to advocate for herself and her own desires –– even when they included the emotional drubbing of her “best friend” Lorna, a wellspring of emotion kept under placid cover by Sarah Gise.
“There’s just a whole lot of emotional abuse, I guess would be the term,” Eleanor said. “The first scene alone might do it for me. The argument would be another. The funeral scene, my God…”
“That was…” Dania started, before whispering the rest of the thought: “That was sort of awesome, though.”
“It was completely rude!”
“Good on her, getting what she wants,” Dania said.
“Where would Lorna go?” Gwen asked.
“Go?” Eleanor repeated. She cocked her head quizzically. “When?”
“If she walked away from Grace,” clarified Gwen. “Who else is she open with?”
“It might have to be the father,” Dania said. “As much as she dislikes him.”
“Well, there’s your answer,” Gwen pointed out. “Can’t go to the family, not talking with them. Can’t go to another friend, not without getting Grace’s permission first.”
“Well, I’m saying what would happen if it were me in the situation,” Eleanor answered. “Lorna is different.”
“She is,” said Gwen. “Remember: universal emotions, not actions.”
“Sure, sure,” Eleanor said. “Fine, I guess I get it. Lorna has no one else, so she stays.”
“It’s the Catch-22 of the relationship, isn’t it?” Gwen said. “So much vitriol between the two of them, but in the end, the only person they have who can stabilize themselves…is each other.”
“Maybe Grace should leave,” Dania said. “Why keep Lorna around?”
“To be a hate sponge,” Eleanor answered. “To take on all the hate that she refuses to direct at herself. I understand that part of it –– it’s so obvious how much Grace needs Lorna in her life, from the beginning. It’s significant to me that Lorna has all of the solo moments onstage, those little pre-recorded moments of heightened arrest. It’s really her story about learning why –– or, whether, I guess –– she needs Grace.”
“That came through in the staging, too,” Gwen said. “Did you notice that Grace always had the higher ground on the rake? She’s almost always stage right of Lorna, and thus ‘above’ her. Even when Grace is complaining to Lorna, she always has the power, until she decides to give it away.”
“Yeah, it’s a strong production, for certain,” Eleanor added. “Theming aside. Georgette Verdin knows how to keep the tension high and the pace moving quickly. Those transitions, some of the simplest and most effective I’ve seen in a while.”
“Easy to do, when you have so little to move,” Dania suggested.
“But so difficult, with so many characters,” said Eleanor. “Not just Peter Gertas, as the actor playing every male role –– which, okay, was it just me that found it weird that the actor playing all the love interests was also playing the father?”
“I noticed that!” Dania said. “He’s making out with Lorna and then five minutes later, he’s like, ‘hi, I’m your stepdad now…'”
“Unavoidable consequence of the writing, I suppose,” Gwen mused. “I can’t think of a fix for that besides adding another man and…well, obviously no.”
“Obviously,” said Eleanor and Dania, in sync.
“But anyway,” continued Eleanor, “More than him. The women switching between ages, between conflicts, in an instant. It’s an incredible showcase for two of Interrobang’s strongest ensemble members.”
“Geez, put that on the poster,” Dania chuckled.
“It’s that rarest of beasts in the storefront world,” Gwen commented. “A show that’s emotionally affecting, without being overproduced. Verdin never goes for any sort of ‘showy’ coup-de-théâtres –– she allows the story to speak for itself.”
“And the women to speak for themselves,” Eleanor added.
“I enjoyed it enough,” Dania said. “I wish there was a little more narrative and less ‘the audience puts together the emotional thread.’ But I can tell someone will see themselves in it, and that’s always worthwhile, I guess.”
“You guess…” Eleanor repeated. Again she thought back through the play’s controlled violence, the simmering uncertainty and lashing out that made Lorna and Grace’s continued relationship unbearably necessary throughout their lives.
“You guess,” Eleanor said once again, before adding: “I know.”
Image Credit: (l to r) Sarah Gise & Laura Berner Taylor / Photo by Emily Schwartz
The author also wishes to make it known that they have worked in processes with designers Michelle E. Benda and Erik Siegling before.