Two months’ worth of hard work showed itself this past weekend in the CenterStage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance when the 2015 Summer Theatre Lab remounted its summer performance of Gilded Girls: 66 (Very Short) Plays About the End of the World. The Lab, a program in its 12th season, admits 10 students from the College and guides them through a summer of intensive theater work.
In a series of workshops with professionals, the students participate in every part of the play-production process, including sound design, light design, directing, acting, stage-managing and even playwriting. The whole project culminates in the Lab’s “Open Weekend,” which happened this year in the middle of August and featured student-written works alongside the program’s final product, Gilded Girls. As tradition holds, the students of the Lab remount their production early in the school year.
The play, written by Mallery Avidon and directed by Caitlin Sullivan ’07, follows the last moments of life on earth in 66 different apocalyptic scenarios. The play is told with a lens on former first lady Nancy Reagan, Russian queen Catherine the Great, French scientist Marie Curie, British queen Elizabeth I and Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl, characters played by Caroline McArdle ’18, Fatima Anaza ’18, Miranda Hanson ’17, Evi Mahon ’18 and Jack Scaletta ’18, respectively.
The characters were introduced in solo scenes on their platforms, each accented by a different color. As the play progressed and the audience became more familiar with the characters, the actors began to interact with each other and speak face to face rather than out towards the audience. The co-mingling became so close that at one point Hanson performed an entire scene with her back to the audience.
Actions like this fit well with the aesthetic of the play, which was simultaneously cluttered and bare. An elaborate lighting plot contrasted with bare-bones scenery that featured pastel-colored set pieces and two work ladders needed for moving between different levels of the CenterStage’s façade. The set, which was designed in part by Cate McCrea ’13, allowed for freedom of movement and transformation of the stage into any possible apocalyptic vessel, all while keeping the “Gilded Girls” tied to their original colorful set pieces by the streaks of color in their hair.
The writing of the play was at times delightful, but also suffered from a sometimes-overbearing amount of repetition, which unfortunately made some of the jokes lose their punch. All of the script’s positive parts, though, were accentuated by the excellent acting. Each of the men and women on stage became characters unrecognizable from those whom they have played in the past, as each actor became fully absorbed in the characters they played in Gilded Girls. Understanding the absurdity of the play, Mahon’s over-the-top British accent and Scaletta’s exaggerated gaga-ness contributed to the positive comedic vibes running through the show. The comedy of the play was also exhibited in the tableaus that the ensemble struck at the end of scenes, leaving the audience with a memorable, laughable moment before the stage flipped to dark.
The play touched on a wide host of more meaningful topics, such as tensions between family and career, debates of science versus religion and the permanency and inevitability of death, but the play’s format of 66 very short scenes didn’t allow the show to explore any of those themes very thoroughly – for better or for worse.
Gilded Girls did a great job of showcasing student talent at the College both onstage and off in the wings, as the Lab showed itself to be an overwhelmingly constructive program. The play itself was confusing at parts, but the mixture of hilarity and poignancy along with the abundance of talent made it a more than enjoyable use of time on a quiet Friday night in Williamstown.