Production unravels love myths

The Philaletheis Society presented “Cross Stitch,” a performance of Charles Mee’s “First Love,” this past Friday and Saturday, starring Atticus Koizumi ’20 and Sami Hodes ’20, above. / Courtesy of Cassie Jain

We who are young have years ahead of us to experience what we have yet to achieve. But as we get older, we lose those infinite opportunities. What happens when tomorrow might mean that we’re dead?

This is the topic that The Philaletheis Society’s production of “Cross Stitch,”—a performance of Charles Mee’s “First Love”—tackled, following Edith and Harold, two geriatrics falling in love for the first time. Portrayed by Atticus Koizumi ’20 and Sami Hodes ’20, respectively, the couple grasp with the new feelings of love at a time when most of their life has already happened.

“Cross Stitch” was performed in Sanders Classroom Auditorium on Friday, April 14, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 15, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Directed by Alexandra Hatch ’20 and stage managed by Eilif Rønning ’20, this 45-minute play was both poignant and entertaining.

First-year student Sami Hodes, pictured above, depicted Edith in Philaletheis’ “Cross Stitch,” one half of an older couple who explore and challenge idealistic view of love and romance. / Courtesy of Cassie Jain

Hatch talked about what first drew her to direct Mee’s play: “I had directed a Charles Mee play in the past. And I’m familiar with a lot of his work because he publishes it for free on his website. Usually to read plays, you have to buy it and you’re not sure you’re going to like it. I’ve read most of his plays and this one stuck out to me in this moment. In my first year in college, I’ve thought a lot about how quickly my life is going. And it’s about old people and how fast their life has passed them by.”

Despite the grim premise of the play, “Cross Stitch” is actually heavily comedic. To subtly hint at this, the program says, “[D]irector’s note: this is a comedy[,] please laugh[.]” Handling such a heavy topic can be a mammoth task to attempt, but Hatch and the “Cross Stitch” team glide with ease over fragile ice. The comedy is so well timed that as Edith and Harold muse over their pasts, even a simple sigh can produce laughter from the audience.

Audience member Marc Milone ’20 reflected on the brevity of the show: “Honestly, because it was short, I don’t think the point of it was to technically tell a complicated and elaborate story but to pull the audience in with these characters. I just think it was a very relatable and empathetic show that a lot of people could see and have experienced. And the acting was phenomenal.”

This production takes several aspects of Mee’s original play while adding its own unique touch. One of the notable distinctions is having Sarah Noschese ’17 sing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Through sweet montages that breathe from the same lungs as a rom-com, Edith and Harold playfully toss flour at each other under the veil of Noschese’s crooning. A tender moment that is almost cinematic in nature, it’s this truth and universality that makes such a familiar scene so simple, profound and beautiful.

“The American view of romance, and maybe the British as well, is so heavy and do-or-die like ‘Romeo or Juliet,’ and it’s not that much in other places,” Rønning stated, describing the dichotomy found in the play’s take on romance. “It’s a lot more casual. It’s not a lover; it’s a life partner. I think this really shows the conflict between each of the two ideologies, in a fun way that’s not super philosophical.”

Rønning continued by explaining the reason for “Cross Stitch’s” minimal technical aspects: “We have three lights actually, because the focus of the show is on the words and the interaction between the two characters. We didn’t want a tech-heavy show at all, which is why we ended up asking for Sanders Classroom as the space.”

At the heart of the play was the relationship between Edith and Harold. Koizumi and Hodes played characters that did not match their respective gender identities, but there never was a moment where you felt they were impersonating. Both their performances and dynamic were grounded on a truth. The two played off each other in a very raw and natural way, reflecting their characters’ developing and disintegrating relationship.

One particular moment was when Edith shows Harold her messy apartment. In a nod to slapstick comedy, Hodes picks up the newspapers Koizumi keeps on scattering, each toss being followed with a yodeling tra-la-la. This image seems like such sheer absurdity when isolated from the rest of the play, but in the grand flow of the story, it fits.

Milone raved about his favorite moment from the show, saying, “There was this beautiful moment that the director chose to do because it wasn’t in the original script, where Sarah threw these plastic balloons on stage.”

“Then,” Milone continued, “with the plastic bag that the balloons were originally in, Sami and Atticus had a tug-of-war with the bag. There was beautiful music in the background and they were so into it. They looked so angry and violent. It made me cry. I don’t think it was supposed to make me cry but it was so relatable. It was just very symbolic.”

As the lights slowly fade on Harold sitting on a park bench, the audience sees a stage in disarray. Almost as turbulent as their relationship, we see popped balloons, newspaper and flour en masse, draped in chaos around what before was a contrastingly empty stage. The technical element of this play was very minimal, with several lighting and sound cues. But each prop that entered the space and each shifting light produced a more impactful effect. Just as Edith and Harold’s relationship reminds us that time is fleeting and actions should be swift, the space echoed the value of what we may find banal or mundane.

Hatch further spoke about the underlying truths that “Cross Stitch” tackles: “I think it’s important to be able to laugh at love as well because it’s taken way too seriously. I think that’s something we can learn from love between older people, that love can be simple and silly and taken not so seriously, as can most things in life. I think that’s an important takeaway, because life is so short and we’re all so unaware of our mortality in college.”

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