Evelyn is a playwright and theatre-maker.

Jane is a director and dramaturg

E

So, what was in your pockets?

Jane

I was in love with Hello! Sadness! so I went in there ready to love this, too

E

I’m a big fan of Orbiter and have pretty much enjoyed every single thing they’ve done so I was in that same frame of mind.

Jane

I agree,  I feel really positively about what Orbiter does for the community and new work.

E

I also went to a reading of this play a few months ago.

Jane

How did you like the reading?

E

The reading was a snippet of the chorus, and a truncated version of the play without the final scenes, so it gave a good sense of the play, leaving me excited to see the full production.

I’ve been anticipating this show for a while I suppose. Which is inherently probably not a good thing since it is not the best idea to have your expectations set too high before seeing something.

Jane

So let’s look at the design. Does anything jump out at you?

E

I thought Apollo Weaver’s set was enchanting. I loved this wide open space that feel like a whole world. It felt almost like a Dr. Seuss book.

Jane

I loved how the trees were illuminated from inside.

E

Yes!

Jane

Before the lights came up, they looked kind of paper mache, but they had this woven, fabric depth and when the light came through they looked really magical.

E

That was a favorite.

Jane

And I liked how everything was made out of quilting fabric. It really pointed to the homespun nature of Quakerism and the interplay between that homespun-made-of-scraps aesthetic with deep idealism.

E

Yes! Didn’t think of that. I don’t know much about Quakerism. I was also particularly impressed by the chorus as trees. They were a big part of the set.

Jane

I would have liked for there to be less of a hard edge on the scrim, though.  All of the pieces inside the set fit together, like you said, in a kind of cozy Dr. Seuss world but the hard edges on the scrim, and being able to see up into the grid took away from that for me.

E

Hmmm I didn’t actually notice that! Maybe it depended on where you were sitting. Also I might not have been as observant.

Jane

Something that I thought was really impressive about Rebecca Kanach’s costumes is that they evoked the animals but still give the animating power to the actors.

E

Yes, I agree. The actors didn’t have anything to hide behind.

Jane

And the costumes were scrappy, like for a kids school play which was theme-appropriate and funny, but when shit got real, they didn’t make it seem silly. So that was really fitting. Kanach walked a really fine line between whimsy and practicality.

E

It was almost like these were real people, but they all had this animal nature hidden just beneath the surface.

Jane

Yeah, I loved the way both the costuming and the acting worked together to make these fully-human animal creatures. How did you feel about sound?

E

Honestly I don’t remember much about the sound. That always falls through the cracks for me. I’m learning how to be a better listener. However, I remember learning once that if you don’t notice the sound that is actually a good thing. However, if the chorus is included in the sound here then I loved it. They added so much to the show not just physically as the trees, but also with the absolutely beautiful and haunting choral interludes.

Jane

I completely agree.  There’s just nothing like live music on stage. The sound of the drum in that big, echoing Christ Church space was also haunting.  I really love when all sound is practical, especially in a piece like this that feels like a fairy tale or a children’s story.

E

Well this basically is a fairy tale isn’t it? “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

Jane

I really appreciated the way Mary Tuomanen wove the original text into the script. It was seamless and brought that style and therefore that idealism into our time.

E

I don’t know much about Quakerism at all. But I feel like a learned a little bit about the values of that religion from this production, even though I wouldn’t consider it a religious piece.

Jane

And the founding values of Philadelphia.  I am a big Philly history nerd, and also love Quakerism as part of that history, but I didn’t feel like you needed to know that much about it to understand this play.

E

You probably had a little bit more context than me then, but yes you are right. I don’t think it took away from the play to not know. However, I imagine someone like you who has more context may have gotten a little bit more out of it.

Jane

What did you think about the script overall?

E

I thought the play flowed mostly well with a few stumbles. The squirrel scenes lost me sometimes. I didn’t learn until later that they were representing the Invader and the Native.

Jane

Oh the squirrel scenes were my favorite! They were completely devastating!

E

Perhaps if that hadn’t gone over my head I would have been able to make more sense of their motivations. But I was left confused a few times as to why they were behaving they way they were. Particularly the Invader who was behaving so irrationally most of the time.

Jane

To me the squirrels showed the trajectory of an abusive relationship perfectly. The way the irrational abuser holds the victim hostage by moving from sweetness and manic joy to cruelty and dismissal. And the way the Invader kept appropriating from the native. Like when, the native shows the invader how to tenderize the oak nuts, and the invader completely ignores it and then  later, the invader says that he came up with this “new way” to tenderize the nuts and expects praise from the native for coming up with it.

E

They were very cute and sad. Yes, the abusive relationship part definitely came through. I guess I was just wasn’t fully connecting them to the rest of the piece.

Jane

I thought that was a really cool way to tie the personal to the political. The relationship between the native and the invader is so similar to the relationship between a victim and an abuser.

E

Hmmmm I did not make that connection. But I’m glad to have made it now. Interesting. This play is definitely one that sparks conversation.

Jane

To me, that was the heart of this play. Revolution and making a better world are not about big lofty ideals. It’s about how we treat each other. As a person who has spent a lot of time in activist and social work circles, this really hits home. You can be part of an organization that claims to be fighting for justice and peace, but enacts daily inequality and violence on its’ employees or participants or even those it claims to serve.

E

For me the heart of the play was the fight against our baser instincts. I believe we have a spiritual side that is inherently good, but there is also this animalistic nature about us that makes living in peaceable kingdom almost impossible.

Jane

I think it’s also about telling the truth and how ideals can stifle people. In the play, everyone has bought into this “Peacable Kingdom” idea which makes it impossible for those who are unhappy to say that they are unhappy.  They can’t betray the ideal. That happens in squirrel-type relationships too. You can’t betray the relationship by saying that you’re unhappy in it.

E

Yes, like the Sheep played by Eliana Fabiyi.

Jane

That was so heartbreaking. I was definitely crying when she gave her final speech.

E

She is so unhappy and uncomfortable but there is no one to talk to about it because it is not allowed. I just wanted to hold her poor thing.

Jane

The scene with the leopard and the kid was especially difficult for me.  If you’ve ever been in an activist group, you know that guy.  “Of course I’m a feminist, but if I weren’t this is what I’d do to you”

E

Ugh. Yea.  That was uncomfortable.

Jane

But even though this is supposed to be a place of perfect equality and justice, the Kid has no choice but to run away. He can’t report the leopard because he can’t betray the ideal. Everything about this play reminds me of being part of well intentioned groups with other white people

E

Haha oh no. I can’t imagine that is a good thing.

Jane

It just skewers all of our failures.

E

Well, the weak points of humans.

Jane

Does it feel universal to you? I was feeling a lot of insight about white saviors and male feminists. But that might be in my pockets.

E

It could also just be your perspective which is the genius of this piece in the end. I think anyone could see this and walk away with an important yet distinct take away.

Jane

My friend and I were arguing about the lion. I thought the lion committed an act of mercy by killing the sheep but my friend thought it was cruelty. How did you see it?

E

It did seem merciful. It was sort of slow and sensual when he killed her and it didn’t feel violent.

Jane

No, almost maternal. It had a “there there” feeling to it.

E

But I think the Lion killed her because it was the only thing to be done. There was this inevitable quality about it. However, I did know it was coming since I was at the reading.

Jane

Oh, I was totally surprised! I had no idea what that lion was up to!

E

I was just waiting for when The Lion was gonna finally snap.

Jane

Do you have any thoughts about why he does? Or what he means? This is a place where I was really foggy. It took me until about halfway through the show to get what was happening but this part never quite became clear.

E

Well I interpreted it in a sort of depressing way. The lion eats meat. The lion is in this kingdom where everything is ‘perfect’ ‘for everyone else but he can’t eat. In the end he decides to end the facade.

Jane

I see.

E

Which brings me back to my initial thoughts you know about our baser instincts.

Jane

Yeah, now that you mention it, the predators did say how hungry they were.

E

Yes hungry for food, hungry for conflict…

Jane

So in the larger metaphor, who is the Lion? I get who the squirrels are and I get who the sheep are. The leopard I am unfortunately very familiar with. Is the play saying that some people are just going to be that way? That all social groups will have predators? That IS depressing

E

Well, I think that in order to appreciate anything wonderful or beautiful we must also know horrible and ugly things.

Jane

To be realistic, do we have to accept that the world is made of predators and prey?

E

I don’t know. I hope not. I hope there is something better than that out there but… Humans derive our energy by inheriting the life force from other living things. That’s the sad truth.

Jane

I guess the play is an observation.  It doesn’t owe us any advice on how to move forward. I think because I took so much life from Hello! Sadness! I was kind of expecting a similar path from this one.

E

Well Mary Tuomanen is quite versatile. I don’t think the ultimate message is depressing though. I’m saying even though depressing things happened. And we saw the peaceable kingdom experiment fail in this iteration doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep striving towards something better. But I’m an optimist.

Jane

We should talk about actors! Because wow!

E

Stephanie Walters had me laughing my pants off.

Jane

Oh she was just fantastic. How did she sustain that level of high-energy innocent charm without getting annoying as an actor? It is a gift from the gods.

E

She really tickled me as the sheep. She was also super annoying and lovable which was an interesting balance to strike. Chris Davis was supremely creepy in the way only Chris Davis can be.

Jane

Ha! I guess I have in my pockets that I’m not always a big fan of his work but he completely won me over with that pitch-perfect leopard. His comedic timing was fantastic.

Eliana Fabiyi was heartbreaking.  All of us were breathless when she was giving that final speech and her guarded interactions with Stephanie Walters were perfectly timed, too. They had a great chemistry.

Carla Rae was also a real grounding presence in the show. She was like an ambassador from reality.

E

I wanted to watch her without blinking whenever she was present. However, I did have a hard time understanding her sometimes.

Jane

Oh, really? Do you think it was a matter of where you were sitting? Acoustics are weird in there.

E

Yes, she brought her overall volume seemed lower to me, however I was on the opposite side of where her scenes usually were.

Jane

I also thought Daniel Park was really endearing.

E

Alexandra King made a lovely debut as well. I thought she portrayed William Penn as this gullible outsider in a way that was both frustrating and endearing.

Jane

Yes, I agree

E

Ah. Endearing twice.

Jane

Lots of endearing creatures! I have to say that my favorite performance in the show was from Thomas Choinacky. The subtlety of his squirrel and the full-body way that he played very complex emotions. The deep subtext to whatever he said and did. That performance just wrapped around my heart.

E

It was a very well rounded performance.

Jane

John Jarboe was probably equally good, but I was too in my pockets about it.  I was like “fuck you, gray squirrel.” Which is a credit to him as well I guess.

E

UGH. But John Jarboe as the Gray squirrel was so sweet and sad… and absolutely unstable.

Jane

That’s how they get you! THAT IS HOW GREY SQUIRRELS GET YOU!

E

HAHAHA.

Jane

So overall a precise and ENDEARING cast with no weak links. Just solid. I wanted to watch everyone exactly as much as I wanted to watch everyone else.

E

And Funny. We can’t forget funny.

Jane

When the scene changed it was always like, ooh, now you! A buffet!

E

A smorgasbord. If you include the trees.

Jane

That all points to incredible direction from Becky Wright. Excellent pace, unity of theme. All the actors having their absolute best brought out.

E

Yes Becky Wright had a lot of pieces to put together for this.

Jane

And she nailed it

E

Heck yea.

Jane

This is incredibly impressive direction. And it would have been so easy to get wrong.

E

Yes, she clearly had a deep connection to the play in order to be able to tell Mary’s story so well.

Overall, go Orbiter!

Jane

Yes! Go Orbiter and everyone on this project!

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