Melissa is a white cis woman, a new play enthusiast, a feminist. She craves theatre that connects urgent ideas to human stories. She’s wary of hopeful things.

Espie is a director and producer coming to terms with wanting to change the world.  

 

Espie

Let’s do this jawn

 

Melissa

Yeah! Okay, so what was in your pockets?

 

Espie

Mental health is a topic that I am super invested in – I’m actually developing a show centered around mental health right now.  I don’t know if that primed me to be more critical of the show or not, but I was certainly very excited to see it! How about you?

 

Melissa

I don’t know much about mental health, though of course my life has been affected by loved ones’ issues with it. Mostly I went because I’m familiar with most of the artists involved.

 

Espie

I knew a lot of the artists also.  I ended up actually subbing in to usher the night I went.

 

Melissa

Yeah, there was some front of house confusion when I went too–not that that’s a reflection on the production, but it contributed to the DIY feel of the whole thing.

Espie

Makes sense, though every time I’ve seen a show at Vox it definitely had a DIY feeling around it.  It’s a crazy little space.

 

Melissa

Yeah it definitely is! I think they made great use of it. That stage was economical but clean. Sara Outing made limited design capabilities work well for the production. We went a lot of different places, and through several states of reality, and it was done very smoothly and simply. One IKEA table, some folding chairs, and very strategic props.

 

Espie

I agree! I thought the set design was so simple and intelligent.  It was lovely how much you tell about the characters from so little – the four stack-able boxes to indicate Amy’s space were so telling.

 

Melissa

I loved those boxes! They were so specific. And the chairs being pushed together to become different furniture? It was a simple and theatrical solution to challenging conditions. I also loved the blanket unfurling to spread leaves and take us outside.

 

Espie

That was a really beautiful little bit of magic, though I wasn’t completely sold on the reasoning behind all of the movement around that moment.  

 

Melissa

Yeah, I think it was a beautiful theatrical moment, but I didn’t understand the significance of the blanket. And in general, the movement sequences felt kind of tertiary to the text. This play had one foot so firmly grounded in a “realistic” play that the movement sequences kind of felt like a different piece sometimes, to me.

 

Espie

I agree. There also was already so much going on to signify the inner life of the character that the movement didn’t feel necessary. When Randall was playing the guitar (also, I thought Richard Chan’s performance was so endearing!), I was so on board with everyone dancing with once another, but when they broke into the more choreographed movement, I found myself checking out until the guitar broke.

 

Melissa

I just wasn’t sure what that particular choreographed moment was supposed to be. Randall’s simultaneous bliss and turmoil over playing the guitar? Richard Chan’s performance as Randall was totally committed and endearing, which even further confused for me the need for the movement. Overall, I think that type of performance was consistent for many of the performances, particularly Amanda Jill Robinson’s performance as Amy. Each actor was so earnestly committed to their role. I could see they each wanted to craft a specific, likeable person.

 

Espie

I agree!  I think Hannah did a great job creating such distinct characters.

 

Melissa

Yeah each character had a very distinctive voice.

 

Espie

Anxiety can show itself in so many different ways and by having 5 different depictions of it, I felt like it gave a lot of people a chance to identify with their own experiences with anxiety.

 

Melissa

Did you feel like each depiction was accurate? I think that’s a really interesting point, that there was room for the audience to fit themselves in. Myself, I sometimes felt like some of the characters–particularly Amy and Randall–teetered a little into cartoonishness with their particular disorders (OCD and germaphobia respectively). But I wonder if that was in order to allow people who might not be familiar with those disorders to access the characters (a la commonly seen “tropes”) and suck them in to discover more specific thoughts, like a trojan horse of mental illness stereotypes.

 

Espie

I definitely felt that at times, but I didn’t mind, possibly in part due to the commitment of the actors. There was a moment during the meeting at Amy’s house when Hedda (Zoe Richards)  put the tape recorder on top of one of the stacking boxes (I really love those boxes), and the expression of distress that fell of Amy’s face was so honest that I had completely bought into the character.

 

Melissa

Yeah I saw that too. It was really specific and impressive. What did you think of the writing outside of character?

 

Espie

So, I’ve struggled a lot with this particular criticism because I don’t know how relevant it is, but, I really struggled with the unifying theme being flying. On the one hand, I thought it was a great vehicle for talking about anxiety, but it’s also an experience that’s only available to those of a higher income bracket, and leaving out those who don’t make enough money to fly excludes the part of the population were mental health is already not widely accepted and treatment is more difficult to attain.

 

Melissa

That’s a really great point. I hadn’t thought about that. It seemed like, with the exception of Drake, each of those characters was able to handle the financial cost of flying.

 

Espie

Yeah, that’s a sense that I got as well.  

 

Melissa

I think that The Greenfield Collective was trying to raise awareness–I thought it was great that they had materials from Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health available at the bar when you came in–but you’re right, I think this was an oversight. An unintentional one, but a significant one.

 

Espie

I didn’t know they had materials available, that’s awesome!

 

Melissa

My biggest questions were about how quickly everyone bonded together. In every scene, the characters hurt each other somehow, yet somehow scriptually they became closer . This was a particular problem for me at the end. (Spoiler Alert). I really didn’t believe that Randall would come back, after a breakdown and a betrayal on that scale. I loved Amy becoming the emotional glue of the group, but it felt like the damage ran too deep.

 

Espie

Also, I was incredibly impressed at Hedda drunk-planning that group.

 

Melissa

I also had questions about Drake’s role in the group, and his eventual catharsis. Why was apologizing to a man that verbally abused him the form his healing took?

 

Espie

Yeah, I didn’t necessarily believe that moment. I kept expecting Drake (David Pica) to really let his anger loose as well.  I felt like it was foreshadowed in the script and it didn’t go as far as I wanted.

 

Melissa

Yeah! I totally agree! Everyone else had a meltdown, but Drake never got that. It was a tightly plotted script–so tightly plotted that I think we missed a few steps.

 

Espie

The tightly plotted statement is such a great point. And yeah, I really wanted him to spill his coffee on Hedda’s crotch during their confrontation. Did you have any thoughts on the sound design/music?

 

Melissa

I thought it was fine? I guess? The music was cute. It reminded me of an indie movie. I didn’t really understand why in Randall’s guitar scene, the music playing in the music sequence wasn’t his own.

 

Espie

It was mad indie.  I agree.  I did enjoy how hopeful the music was though.  It conveyed a “light at the end of the tunnel” feeling for me.

 

Melissa

Which I appreciated, but again, I’m not sure if it was earned, because of how little time we spent with the characters without them being shitty to each other.

 

Espie

That’s true.  I interpreted the music as a gift to everyone in the audience dealing with anxiety. Not necessarily a direct correlation to the script itself.

 

Melissa

That’s beautiful. I would never have thought that.

 

Espie

It gave me a lot of warm fuzzy feels. The airport announcements between every scene change, though, got a bit tiresome for me.

 

Melissa

I wished they were more connected to the script. Maybe they were? I honestly started tuning them out.

 

Espie

I did the same thing. I think it was a nice concept to have the announcements serve as a reminder of this eventual goal, but it could’ve been accomplished with three of them.

 

Melissa

I could also have done without each character’s literal baggage. It was a convenient way to take us into each character’s house, but it was a bit on the nose as a metaphor.

 

Espie

I didn’t mind that as much.  I did find it odd – during the first scene – when Hedda gave Drake the replacement pants from the suitcase.  I didn’t know if we were supposed to believe that the suitcase was functioning as a chest of drawers or if this character kept a suitcase full of pants in her living room.

 

Melisssa

That’s a good point. I think what I learned about myself watching this piece is that I’m a cynical sonofabitch. I think this piece was earnest and made with love and care, and for some reason I could feel myself pushing against that. It was hard for me to believe things would be okay.

 

Espie

I was so happy that the piece ended on hope.  It ‘s an important thing to tell anyone struggling with anxiety.

 

Melissa

And I think that’s really valuable. Structurally I don’t know if we earned it, but in terms of intent I think it’s really valuable.

 

Espie

Agreed.

 

Melissa

Do you have any parting thoughts?

 

Espie

While I had my criticisms, I really appreciate that this piece was made.  I enjoyed the earnestness of everyone involved. You?

 

Melissa

I feel the same. I think the play could have used more development, but the performances were so committed and the whole production was so well-meant, I think it was a success.
photo by Dave Sarrafian

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