“Bea”, a play written by Mick Gordon, was performed by UR’s student theater group, The Opposite of People (TOOP), at the Drama House from April 11 to the 14.
The play is about the journey of three characters and their decision to follow through with assisted suicide. It kept the audience engaged every moment of its 105-minute running time, strictly light-hearted in its demeanor, but possessing dark undertones that reflect the story’s serious themes.
Beatrice James, better known as Bea (played by freshman Emma Guilfoyle), is a twenty-something who has been confined to her bed for the past eight years.
The play cleverly kept audiences unaware of her disorder until the end to avoid labeling. Although she is physically imprisoned by paralysis, make no mistake, her inner self is vibrant and vivacious.
She loves dancing to the music of life and has created her own “daring definition of life,” believing firmly in happiness and freedom. Guilfoyle, full of versatility, delivered a strong, very vocal performance.
Bea has a caregiver, Raymond or “Not Gay Ray” (played by sophomore Devin Goodman), who helps her with her daily tasks. He is sentimental, and the dynamo of Bea’s life, brightening up her days with his incessant chattering. Goodman portrayed the character flawlessly and was the major source of humor in the play. His rendition of the scene from “A Streetcar named Desire” was delightfully charismatic, despite the fact that his character’s personality contradicted Stanley Kowalski’s which was famously alpha male.
Ray’s jolly nature was balanced by Mrs. Katherine James (played by freshman Halle Burns), Bea’s mother and a judge by profession. She likes to be in control and is a stickler for rules. She loves her daughter to pieces and is torn by Bea’s decision to die.
Strengthened by the task of caring for her daughter all by herself after her husband ran away, she has difficulties accepting that her daughter wants her to over-sedate her. Burns’ sober expressions and sharp dialogue were the highlight of her performance.
The costumes were designed thoughtfully by Nina Datlof to remain consistent with the characters’ personalities as they change over the course of the play. Ray’s costumes were semi-casual, while Bea dressed in brightly-colored dresses. At the start of the play, Katherine’s strict personality demanded a suit, but towards the end, her costumes became more casual as she assumed the role of a mother.
Interestingly, the play revolved around only a single bedroom. In designing the only set in the play, freshman Christina Amaral and Key Scholar Elizabeth Riedman did an impressive job manifesting a cozy bedroom onto the stage. The window seat made the set seem more real, while the rugs and cushions added color. The earrings, dresses, and shoes were a thoughtful addition and a reminder of Bea’s past; they further highlight her present, paralyzed state. The lighting was good except on the few occasions in which it became too bright for both the audience and the actors. Additionally, the sounds employed were effective in conveying the emotions and tones of the scenes. The music brought Bea’s exuberant spirit to life with popular tunes like “Scream & Shout.”
One of the most memorable quotes from the play was, “The more angry I got, the more she laughed…The more I laughed, the more she laughed,” because the play ended with Mrs. James crying while Bea laughed as she died of over-sedation. The harder Mrs. James cried, the harder Bea laughed. However, the best quote was when Mrs. James expressed her grief, saying that there are words “widow” and “orphan” to describe someone losing a spouse or both parents. But there is no word to describe a parent who loses a child. “Even language knows it isn’t meant to happen.”
Despite a lively and entertaining performance, the show did have some notable faults. The transition from Bea’s inner self to her physical self wasn’t smooth every time. Sometimes, the background sound effects weren’t loud or clear enough to convey the subtle nuances and tones of the scenes. Mishaps are not a new concept to the world of theater, and “Bea” is no different. During the show’s last run, the dress rack fell down as Ray went to get a book from his bag. But these little things did not take too much away from the show itself.
Overall, “Bea” was engaging and touching. As the end drew nearer, many sniffles and even sobs could be heard from audience members as they braced themselves for Bea’s “big day,” watching her as she lay in the comfort of her mother’s arms telling her how much she loved her.
The play was very well received and had good attendance every day of its run. The vivid characters carved a place for themselves in the audiences’ heart. The actors enabled audiences to explore the boundaries of empathy. The director, senior Melissa Martin, did a great job orchestrating the play, bringing out the best in the characters as well as the settings. Cleverly written, creatively directed, and splendidly performed, “Bea” was yet another ingenious TOOP production.
Varma is a member of the class of 2016.