Stage II, ESU’s student theatre organization, presented “Stay” by Lucy Thurber at the Dale Snow Theatre from Oct. 3 to 6.
After a successful book of short stories, the protagonist, Rachel, is trying to finish her first novel by the deadline. However, a list of distractions makes this a nearly impossible feat.
She’s a new professor who hates teaching, her brother Billy is in town because he was fired from his job and she has a secret angel that speaks to her.
Rachel can touch people and see their stories, a power the angel helps her use responsibly. The most important rule is to “always be kind.”
Only sharing her innermost thoughts with the angel, Rachel has isolated herself from the world and avoids confronting her and Billy’s abusive childhood. Her boundaries are challenged when one of her students, Julia, reveals that she has similar powers.
Overall, “Stay” is a recurring question mark, leaving viewers to seek answers that are more elusive than enticing.
Rachel’s angel, also known as Floating Girl, is played by senior Jenna Worrell and freshman Kimberly Goldberg.
Floating Girl’s presence demands to be felt. She wears tattered black clothes, and she moves across the stage in a series of sensuous leaps or strides, sometimes reducing to all fours.
Despite the significance of her role, viewers don’t actually see Floating Girl speak, which contributes to her ghostly energy. Instead, her devious voice is heard through the theatre’s speakers, an element not included in the original script.
Stage II’s production staff wanted Floating Girl to be perceived as part of Rachel’s mind, and having her act in silence enhanced the effect.
“It adds another level of intimacy…using magic in theatre is very different. It has to feel in the space. Disconnecting the voice from the body was a way to make it have more energy to it,” said director Tamir Cousins-Ali, a senior.
Still, Floating Girl’s identity isn’t clear, and she becomes the biggest source of confusion.
Is she magic, or is she demonic? Is she the personification of mental illness? Does she merely represent Rachel’s stream of consciousness?
Her purpose, appearance and dialogue seem to lack harmony, but viewers can’t ignore her even if they wanted to.
Senior Marti Goodfellow plays Rachel, and it’s obvious Goodfellow is a veteran on the ESU stage.
Unlike her previous roles, Rachel is reserved and struggles to interact with others. Yet, Goodfellow’s portrayal ensures that the character isn’t minimized.
Her wide, expressive eyes are a lighthouse in each scene, guiding viewers through Rachel’s guilt, pain, regret and anxiety.
“I don’t like method acting. That’s not my preference,” said Goodfellow. “It’s more about just making sure I feel in the character and letting everyone else kind of consume me in that world, and then just trying to live in it the best I possibly can.”
Freshmen Dana Rochman (Julia), Daniel Michel (Billy) and Nicholas Kasander (Tommy) successfully made their debut on the ESU stage.
Julia is bold, eager to develop a connection with Rachel after reading her short stories and suspecting that she has powers too.
Unfortunately, Julia is also damaged. She suffers from depression and has even tried to commit suicide.
Rochman seamlessly transitions between Julia’s sassy confidence and more vulnerable moments.
Michel and Kasander provide comic relief with the right pace and delivery. Billy is the sarcastic brother everyone can relate to, reminding Rachel that “Mom’s such a crazy bitch” when tensions are high.
Tommy is in love with Julia, possibly obsessed. While he wonders why she’s having sex with everyone but him, a poignant perspective also lies behind his quirky demeanor.
“Sometimes, love is about having the courage to be pathetic,” he says to Billy.
Theater professor Susan P. O’Hearn plays the voice of Rachel’s estranged mother, Martha, who viewers only hear on an answering machine.
O’Hearn’s voice is harrowing, and the emotion is palpable.
“I’m so sad. I’ve never been this sad,” Martha says to Rachel. “Men take care of practical things. You take care of my hopes and dreams. You’re so lucky because you’ve always been loved. Who loves me?”
Although Floating Girl opens viewers to false and muddled interpretations, the major plot developments are pleasantly intense.
When Julia touches Rachel and Billy and recites their most painful stories, the audience is pulled into the scenes.
Rachel and Billy are in a trance, unable to escape the grasp of Julia’s power. Blue lights are cast center stage and reflect off glassy eyes. The Dale Snow Theatre seems to shrink further in size but increase in closeness.
When Julia and Rachel finally yield to the desire fueled by their similar abilities, they have sex on the couch. There is complete silence and darkness. The transition is simple and effectively captures the essence of intimacy.
Lastly, the play’s falling action is an abrupt halt. Rachel demands Julia to take off her shirt, calls her weak and slaps her. She breaks the most important rule: “Always be kind.”
Rachel’s shame perpetuates a figurative sting. She’s disgusted with herself and realizes she has to face her past. She decides her time with the Floating Girl is over and gives her to Julia.
“If you hear her, you can have her,” says Rachel.
For some audience members, “Stay” remained an enigma.
“I think that collegiate theatre is always a little more experimental and a little more questioning, so I think that this play probably left me with more questions than answers,” said President Marica Welsh.
However, alumnus Jules Gindraux had a different perspective and praised the concept of “pushing boundaries.”
“I thought that this was much deeper than they’ve gone in a while with ESU theatre,” he said.
Cousins-Ali didn’t try to refute anyone’s interpretation of the play, but he did share his ideas.
He believed Floating Girl was supposed to symbolize our negative thoughts. She had a more demonic look for the entirety of the play because she’s an empath.
“I feel like being attached to Rachel, who’s a fairly negative, closed-off person for years made her almost lose those qualities about herself that were angelic and beautiful and radiant,” said Cousins-Ali.
When Rachel gives Floating Girl to Julia, Floating Girl has the chance to be reborn.
Cousins-Ali wasn’t dismayed by the widespread confusion. In fact, it was the exact reaction he was aiming for when he selected “Stay.”
“I know that I like a lot of things like anime and manga and comic books and fantasy,” he explained. “I have the mind to make magical moments…and so I was just like okay, let’s pick something that’s a little weird.”
Goodfellow admitted that she initially had no idea what the show was about. She had to read the script two or three times before she fully understood it.
Once she did, her biggest hopes were that Floating Girl could help Julia and that Rachel would gain the courage to reintroduce herself to the world and allow herself to be loved.
“I want them [the audience] to leave and try piecing it together and connecting it, but also just thinking that this isn’t maybe a show that you need to leave with a full explanation, but rather that it’s just art that we’re creating and sharing with other people,” said Goodfellow.
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