At the forum following Friday night’s performance of “Laundry and Bourbon,” director and senior Emily Antoff explained the intricacies of Studio Theatre’s current system to those who stayed behind. To summarize: first-time directors start with bare-stage productions. From there, they are free to move onto one-acts and full-lengths, bringing into play such technical elements as lighting, costumes and set. Antoff’s interpretation of James McLure’s gently humorous one-act contained all these things, subtly implemented. But perhaps the most interesting part of the production was one that Antoff barely included.
Walking into Studio Theater, one would have been struck by the presence of a faded-colored back porch: quite different from the nearly bare settings of the term’s previous shows. This is the back porch of Elizabeth (freshman Amalia Hertel) who, with friend Hattie (freshman Jordan Hurst) and acquaintance Amy Lee (freshman Martha Brown), discusses life, love and religion over copious amounts of bourbon and coke. It’s a calm afternoon — the lights in Studio subtly shift to represent clouds passing overhead. Hattie, enjoying her time with Elizabeth before Amy Lee’s disruptive entrance, decides to watch some TV. She clicks it on and yet, to our amazement, no sound comes out.
Well, perhaps “amazement” is something of an overstatement. Many teched productions consciously leave sound effects to be imagined by the audience, either for aesthetic or practical purposes. And so the play continues, with the audience assuming that sound will remain in the abstract — that is, until the doorbell rings and Amy Lee enters. During her stay, a phone rings (for Hattie: the kids have set grandma’s dog on fire) and all of a sudden the audience becomes aware of the prior lack of sound. The television was silent, yes, but so too were the numerous cars (pointed out by Elizabeth) which passed by the house. Where were the birds, the neighbors, if there were any of either at all? This is not just a calm day: this is isolation in its purest form. And the eeriness created by such a silence only strengthens the message of McLure’s story.
Elizabeth is a woman conflicted: pregnant and married to a man that many suspect is unfaithful, she finds herself reflecting on her bygone high school days. Hattie, too, looks back to her relationship with the infamous Wayne Wilder and wonders what could have been. Neither woman quite has the answer to that and their uncertainty results in long stretches of silence between lines of dialogue. Without any other sound to be heard, the implication of their remembering resonates. When Elizabeth reveals that she is pregnant, the pause Hattie takes in replying is palpable. Conversely, the entrance of Amy Lee, a loud and opinionated woman, is made even more cacophonous by the ringing of the doorbell. Not until she exits does the back porch quiet down, leaving Hattie and Elizabeth to stew in silence.
The juxtaposition of silence and sound was not a perfect one. At times, Hattie and Elizabeth’s exchanges feel too rehearsed: the pauses, meant to come organically, seem to last for just the “right” amount of time. And the performance of Amy Lee, an admittedly exaggerated character, bordered on caricature. Still, not much is suffered by these few hiccups. With commendable performances by all three actresses and an unassuming aesthetic orchestrated by Antoff, “Laundry and Bourbon” offered a refreshing look into the quiet desperation of country life.