Staged reading prompts company to express creative abilities, emotive acting in collective production

What makes theater different than other forms of entertainment is often the collaborative and changeable nature that is inherent in live performance. Audience members in Brodie Hall Black Box Theater saw a staged reading of “Abundance,” by Beth Henley, that captured the essence of what a live performance should be.

The reading centers around the friendship between simple-minded Bess Johnson—played by history adolescent education and theater double major junior Erin Sheehan—and the adventurous dreamer Macon Hill—played by theater major junior Lila Klatz. The characters meet on their journey to the west as mail-order brides and form a fast friendship. 

The play spans the course of two decades and centers around the tension between the characters in the wake of their developing marriages—Bess to the abusive Jack Flan—played by communication major senior Sean McPhillips—and Macon to the accommodating but unattractive Will Curtis—played by Spanish and adolescent education double major Aidan Procopio.

The nature of a staged reading presents some limitations. Rather than enacting every physical aspect the script calls for or costuming the characters for a scene, a narrator describes the characters’ actions and the costumes they wear. 

These limitations allow for a special opportunity for director senior Anastasia Dennehy 

“Staged readings are limiting, but also freeing because the focus is entirely on the language,” Dennehy said.

Dennehy selected this play because of its predominantly strong language and distinct story after working with it in THEA 321: Directing II.

“There are very few plays written by women, about women and really for women,” Dennehy said. “This play really makes a space for its protagonists; it allows them to talk to one another, to be flawed and to exist as three-dimensional beings in a way that is unique.”

The style of staged readings provides an experience that elevates the script, Sheehan said. 

“Because everything is so stripped away in staged readings, all you really have left are the words,” Sheehan said. “Because of that simplicity, the cast had time to really ruminate on characters, developing the interpretations that they would bring to the stage.”

As Macon, Klatz did an excellent job in capturing a wide-eyed dreamer, delivering lines quickly and humorously. Klatz skillfully allowed the audience to empathize and understand the character’s mistakes, egotism and adultery. Regardless of what else Macon loses, Klatz’s character maintains Macon’s individuality. 

The audience sees this individuality when Macon realizes she may have lost part of her special nature and cries out, “You thief! Robber-thief! Tulips are mine!” to regain her independence. Even though it is a small setback, the moment feels like the largest loss in the show.

Sheehan’s innocent Bess travels down a much darker road, dealing with abuse and abduction. Sheehan portrayed bouts of crying, desperation and weakness as she deals with her aggressive husband. After her traumatic abduction, Bess becomes a cold, almost unfeeling opportunist. 

Sheehan managed to portray the interactions of Bess in a genuine, realistic way. When Sheehan delivered the line, “I do. I know treachery. I could write book. A big book. All about treachery,” the audience could feel the devastating change in Bess, even before they were certain what the change was.

“A lot of what I’ve learned from the staged reading is that at the end of the day, no matter what you do, theater is collaborative,” Klatz said. 

And this collaboration didn’t end with the actors. Dennehy specifically set aside time at the end of the performance for the audience to ask questions, opening a dialogue with the viewers and allowing everyone to digest the show differently.

This sort of simplistic, open atmosphere made the staged reading a special theatrical experience worth being a part of. More staged readings are set to follow on April 25 in Robert Sinclair Theater.