When Mary-Kate (Elena Faverio ’15) and Ashley Olsen (Rebecca Fallon ’14) appeared in the opening scene of Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love this weekend, they took the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance’s stage almost as if by force, assuming every stereotype we can possibly imagine about the young pair of uber-mediatized billionaires.
Of course, this isn’t a biography: Yes, Faverio and Fallon are impersonating the famous Olsens, but only insofar as they appear in the subconscious of the play’s lead, Grace, played to nuanced perfection by Justine Neubarth ’13.
Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love was developed as part of the 2012 Williams College Summer Theatre Lab. Written by Mallery Avidon and directed by Caitlin Sullivan ’07, the play also stars John Chandler Hawthorne ’13 as Tyler, Grace’s husband; Jonny Gonzalez ’15 as a soldier in Tyler’s imagination; and Gabrielle DiBenedetto ’16, Carina Zox ’16, Paige Peterkin ’16, Ashley Meczywor ’13 and Sandy Shedd ’13 as the “Amazing Girl” quintet.
The play centers on Grace, a 27-year-old woman who works 80 hours a week at an ambiguous white collar job. She returns home every night to her unemployed husband and high school sweetheart, Tyler. Tyler does little but play videogames and smoke pot all day, and doesn’t speak to his wife except to wake her up (rather loudly) when she doesn’t hear her alarm going off as she sleeps on the couch. It is while Grace sleeps that Mary-Kate and Ashley creep out, complete with their trademark and outlandish fashion statements, talking loudly and a mile-a-minute, carelessly probing away at her insecurities and hidden desires. Their speech is so full of hilarious and inadvertently offensive quips that it’s hard to keep track of them all as they’re being dished out. “Science can fix you,” says one, while the other tells her, “There’s a book you can get for that.” They question Grace on her marriage, sexuality, sex life and aspirations, completely overwhelming her and pushing her to the edge. Meanwhile, Tyler is visited by the soldier, who warns him that his wife is thinking about leaving him.
Then, the zinger: Mary-Kate reveals that she has fallen in love with Grace. Completely obliterating the line between imagination and reality, Mary-Kate provides Grace sexual and emotional release, and the two take off on a plane to New Zealand, leaving Ashley and Tyler behind. The play becomes both an exposé on the existential crises of our generation as well as a surprisingly warm love story, even if Grace is never really sure if her feelings toward Mary-Kate are truly romantic.
The play was an experience that likely resonated with the majority of the audience. A graduate of one of the Seven Sisters, Grace has followed the path that has been expected for her all of her life. Her internal struggles are mirrored in the intertwining monologues of the five Amazing Girls, who appear at various moments throughout the play. These young women are all either college-aged or near it and have been prepped their entire lives for an elite education, but they find it difficult to even articulate their desires. They don’t know what to do or to whom to turn when their plans fall short of their expectations. Are they preparing themselves to be in the same rut as Grace is?
After the show I spoke to Sullivan, the director. I asked her about what drew her to this particular production and whether her vision of the play changed between performing it during the Summer Theatre Lab and now during the semester. Sullivan said that as a 28-year-old graduate of the College, the play definitely “resonated personally” with her. “It was a play I could make conversation about with my students,” since there was always “something personal at stake,” she said. While it was written in 2007, in pre-recession America, Sullivan believes the play has become even more relevant today. While her “vision remained similar,” working for a different audience during the semester meant making changes to make the play more topical and accessible to students at the College – such as rewriting the Amazing Girl monologues to better resonate with the Williams community and including previously censored parts of the script.
Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love did a particularly fantastic job of weaving moments of sincere compassion in with dark humor. The characters have all been stripped of their emotional outlets: For all their intelligence, it is almost as if they haven’t been given the vocabulary to express themselves, and are thus constantly at a loss for words. Though the play gives no straight answers, it does give a (sometimes brutally) honest portrayal of how we deal with – and sometimes how we wish we’d deal with – these problems.