Surreal senior Drama project stuns audience

“The White Moth,” an original play conceptualized for a senior project, took place at the Powerhouse Theater on April 12, 13 and 14./ Courtesy of Katie Scibelli

When do our dreams merge with reality? How many of our memories are ones we haven’t realized we’ve forgotten? On another note, what happens when your childhood plushy comes to life? At the Powerhouse Theater on April 12, 13 and 14, the senior Drama project “The White Moth,” written by Caleb Featherstone ’18, explored these questions. In addition to Featherstone, Rebecca Slotkin ’18 and Matt Stein ’18 [Full Disclosure: Stein is Assistant Arts Editor of The Miscellany News] were the collaborative project members and lead actors in the production.

The play tells a story about two best friends in college named Callie, played by Slotkin, and Benson, played by Featherstone. Benson’s mother was like a mother to Callie, but after she dies, Callie struggles to overcome her grief. Through a series of flashbacks and an alternate universe made up of dreams, Callie confronts her emotions, which stem from the trials and tribulations of growing up.

“The White Moth” was co-directed by Assistant Professor of Drama Darrell James and Alexandra Hatch ’20. In regard to the novel aspects of her collaboration with James, Hatch elucidated, “This process was unique in many ways, such as having an almost entirely empty set, big goofy animal costumes, three different senior thesis members, and more.” She went on to add, “Even a student and faculty member co-directing together is unique in the Drama department.”

This spring season, Vassar’s Drama Department is burgeoning with senior projects. Moreover, many senior drama majors take inspiration from their liberal arts education to strengthen their projects. Sydney Lee ’19, who plays Benson’s dead mother, Margaret, spoke about this scholarly integration: “One thing unique to Vassar students in particular is how they use their academic skills and insight to fully form the world of the play. The symbolism and imagery run very deep in this play and are effective because they are well-grounded and justified throughout the story.” Hatch also corroborated, “Student theater is a great medium for students to grow artistically outside of the classroom.”

Lee further spoke about playing Margaret, who appears in the characters’ dreams and doles out memory potions to recall the forgotten past. Lee revealed the complexity of playing Margaret: “We don’t get to see a lot of Margaret’s backstory, mannerisms or real-life interactions, so a lot of my work was filling in the blanks.” Slotkin, who plays Callie, also talked about her experience on stage: “I both enjoyed and struggled with playing the role of Callie because the character was very challenging and required a lot of energy to perform every night.” She added, “I wanted to play a challenging role so I could improve and expand as an actor, and I think I definitely did grow throughout this process while still having fun.”

Callie’s hometown friend, Bella, is another character who attempts to make amends with her, and is played by Emma LaPlace ’20. Throughout the play, she reminds the grieving Callie of her support, saying, “I’ll always be in your corner.” Contrasting Bella’s empathetic side, LaPlace also performed a brief interlude of Vanessa Carlton’s 2001 top hit “A Thousand Miles,” which drew a number of laughs from the audience, given its throwback quality.

Callie’s other friend, Magenta, played by Jess Mitchell ’21 is passionate about reaching energies beyond the natural world and helps Callie master the art of lucid dreaming.

Audience member Nicholas Franzen ’20 elucidated his thoughts on the dreamlike quality of the performance: “It was very atmospheric, I liked it quite a lot. It was obviously about being confused—being in your mind—and I think they did that really well.”

One of the more comedic and quirky aspects of the show involves Callie’s childhood plush toys suddenly coming to life. Snoofles, played by Joseph Diez ’20, appears as a stuffed light blue llama on wheels. He is Callie’s best friend growing up, always offering undivided love and support. On the other hand, Sniffles, played by Stein, is a life-sized brown rabbit with stuffing bursting out of the seams.

Lauding the talking plush toys, an audience member, who asked to maintain anonymous, mentioned, “I especially enjoyed watching Sniffles and Snoofles together. That dynamic came out really well—they grabbed me in.” Providing comedic relief throughout, Sniffles and Snoofles work in tandem to help Callie confront her grief.

Another anonymous member from the audience elucidated, “I thought it was iconic. I thought the costuming was incredible, unforgettable,” in regards to the work of Costume Director Kenisha Kelly, who successfully matched the characters’ different styles to their personalities. The same audience member complimented the minimalist set, which included two geometric volumes of wood, painted brown and black. These choices, made by Set Designer Halle Smith ’20, aimed to emphasize the story through this minimal yet effective stage design.

Lee elaborated on the senior project: “The concept is incredibly refreshing. It’s dramatic, abstract, comedic, and cheesy! As a psychology major, I also can’t help but love this idea of a dream-world and it was especially exciting for us actors—exploring both the neutral and worst sides of our characters.” Indicating her respect for Featherstone, Lee also stated: “The best parts about it are the vivid images Caleb creates in his writing. They are easily accessible and such a pleasure to fall into every night.”

The playwright himself spoke about the lengthy process of bringing “The White Moth” to the stage. Featherstone explained, “It’s been about a year since Becca, Matt and I proposed this, and as the writer I have frequently felt confused, frustrated, or exhausted with the script. Seeing this play finally come to the stage has proved to me that it was all worth it.”

Additionally, Featherstone did not initially think he would act in the play: “I originally wrote the role of Benson thinking that I would direct the play, but over winter break came to the conclusion that I would much rather be in the show.”

All in all, the seniors’ devised production of “The White Moth” revealed the importance of friendship, even when two people grow so far apart that the distance feels too wide for recovery. Especially during the grieving process, people need others in their corner.

Although put to the test, Callie and Benson’s friendship proves its enduring strength. Overall, Featherstone weaves a story in and out of reality as if the audience were truly experiencing a dream.

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