Alum-written ‘East O’ West O’’ finds human poignancy in fairytale

Last Thursday through Saturday students, parents and community members flocked to the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance to see East O’ West O’, a musical written by Michelle Rodriguez ’12.

In her program, Rodriguez described her inspiration for the musical: As a child, she had “a really special relationship with her public library.” There, she especially enjoyed the “fairytales and folktales from around the world” section. One of her favorite stories was a Norwegian folktale, East o’ the Sun West o’ the Moon.

Many years later, Rodriguez created a musical based on this Norwegian folktale. In explaining the inspiration for this work, Rodriguez said that “when we are pulled in so many directions by all the different facets of our identity, instead of lamenting that we are not one thing and not another, we can celebrate the in-between place that we inhabit where we can embody all of them at once.” East O’ West O’ used an interestingly layered set and web of interactions between characters to help reach Rodriguez’ goal: “[To] help us remember the essential things about what it means to be human.”

East O’ West O’ tells the story of Ava (Ruby Froom ’16), the eldest daughter of Mama (Claire Leyden ’16) and Pa (Matthew Conway ’15) and the sister to Axel (Bailey Edwards ’16) and April (Gabrielle DiBenedetto ’16). Ava and her family live on a farm that is suffering a seemingly endless drought. Bear (Daniel Potter ’16) comes along quite randomly and requests that the family give him their eldest daughter Ava in exchange for a promise to bring rain to the farm. Pa readily insists that his daughter go while the rest of the family tries to persuade her to stay. Ava decides to leave with Bear in order to save the farm and her family. Bear takes Ava “across the miles” to his cave where they spend time together until the winter comes.

There, the audience learns of Brinzibee (Justine Neubarth ’13,) a magical troll who, after discovering Bear as a human shipwrecked on the coast, cursed Bear to assume an animal form during the day, only allowing him to return to his human form by night. Despite Brinzibee’s spell, Bear and Ava form a bond living on their own, though Ava continues to pine for her family.

Eventually understanding Ava’s unhappiness, Bear returns her to her family out of remorse. Ava’s affection for Bear, however, drives her to leave home soon after being returned to her family in order to pursue Bear, her newfound love. The North, East, West and South winds, played by Conway, Omar Gouda ’16, Caroline Sinico ’14 and Lizzie Fox ’13 respectively, guide Ava to where Bear is said to remain, a place that is “east o’ the sun and west o’ the moon.” There, the audience meets the ominous Ambrozia (Lara Roche-Sudar ’14), whose intervention brings the fairytale narrative to its conclusion. Ambrozia, who has ensnared Bear and played a critical role in his enchantment, attempts to foil Ava’s plan to reunite with Bear. Despite this obstacle, Ava ultimately outsmarts Ambrozia and wins Bear away from her.

East O’ West O’ was beautifully done. The production was particularly impressive due to its use of the space available. While the set was simple and props were kept to a minimum, the story was relayed flawlessly. The story itself immersed us entirely in the world of fairytale, so the audience responded well to the several instances of comic relief, especially to Brinzibee and Ambrozia, whose costumes were amazingly intricate and wild. While not all of the actors committed as fully as they could have to their roles, those who did made all the difference and stole the show.

The most impressive and memorable aspect of the musical was its original music. As those familiar with Rodriguez would expect, the music was humble and immediate – consistent with the playwright’s own style while simultaneously offering a diverse collection of songs to entertain the audience.