Last weekend in Studio Theatre, junior director Meredith Noseworthy brought Women and Wallace, by Jonathan Marc Sherman, beautifully to life. The dark, one-act comedy deals with the life of Wallace Kirkman between six and 18, specifically through the lens of his relationships with women, an endeavor marred by his mother’s suicide. In a cast of one man and eight women, the audience is privy to the full range of Wallace’s experience.
The themes of “what women want,” coming of age, abandonment, and sexual awakening are powerfully present in the script. They are dealt with by setting the entire play on a huge bed. The platform upon which the mattress was set was raised about four feet off the floor, requiring the actors to either hop up or use the stairs to make it to the stage. The raised dais seemed like a kind of catwalk playing area that craned some necks in the first row, but it also served the story well.
The set designer, senior Eli King, was sitting in the first row at the performance I attended, obviously pleased with the audiences reaction when a character made their first exit into the headboard of the bed. Surprised gasps were heard when the actor disappeared into the cleverly disguised door. A makeshift table even lowered from the middle of the backboard.
With a to-scale nightstand nearby and a dyed and stitched coverlet on the top, the bed was very effective as a set. The only downside was walking atop mattresses, which put the actors slightly off balance and made noise.
Though there were some technical hiccups the first night, lighting design by junior Samantha Newport was extremely successful the second night, effectively but subtly shifting the mood and scenes (of which there were many to cycle through).
Costumes by junior Analise Rahn were extremely well done. I have nothing but compliments for her storytelling. Since there were so many women to keep track of, the distinctions between age and personality were tremendously important to convey, and Rahn carried it off well. She aged Wallace from six to 18, removing a vest, adding a sweater, while still differentiating between the women with which he came in contact. If it wasn’t the sharply dressed valedictorian, Sarah, it was the sexy but professional psychiatrist (played coolly by senior Maren Reisch). Even down to the sensual Lili’s bra and undies combo, the costume design was a major win for the show.
Freshman Nellie Ognacevic’s grandmother, with a comically hunched posture that was all arms in the walk (exacerbated by the odd footing), slipped into an almost British nanny affect, and delivered her lines with a nod and a wink, eliciting guffaws from the audience. She was one of the consistently reoccurring characters who really used her punch lines to play up the comic element.
Sarah, played by junior Kristen Chmielewski, was spot on in her interpretation and execution, unaffected by her unfortunate hoarse voice caused by sickness. Freshman Ivy Reid avoided a huge pot hole by playing a character much younger than herself. Acting young can sometimes turn into hyperactivity and squeaky voices, but Reid played it well with intentionality and simple but driven thought processes. Senior Cami Woodruff did a stunning job as Lili, the smoldering temptress complete with red dress and sex scene.
And finally, sophomore Nate Hults, embodied the sardonically self-deprecating Wallace with ease and style. It was a huge change from his previous performance in senior Pam Schuller’s improv show, which exhibits his varied theatrical ability.
As the play was set in thrust, sight lines were an issue. Those sitting on the outer edge of either side had a compromised view of the set. Even so, acting levels were effectively incorporated on and off the set and blocking did not seem contrived, though the play moved through multiple scenes without any alteration of the setting.
The use of the fog machine inspires mixed feelings in me. My first reaction is mad props to Noseworthy for finally incorporating it into Studio, but my second reaction is of practicality. It was loud and clanky, making the actors shout over most of it. It elicited coughing and hand waving from much of the audience, and it might have been overkill because both the text and the lighting designated the scene as a dream sequence. But on the other hand, the overall effect was a striking spectacle.
Congratulations to the cast and crew for carrying off an entertaining and meaningful performance.