In one week, Mt. A’s Motyer-Fancy Theatre (MFT) will present the existentialist play Seven Stories. From March 29 to April 1, the MFT will be transformed into a building’s seventh-story ledge, where seventeen larger-than-life characters performed by five student actors emerge from the windows and give us a glimpse into their bizarre lives high above the world. Sadistically star-crossed lovers, bridegrooms, conspiracy theorists, party-goers: the list goes on. And in the middle of it all, an anxious and indecisive Person stands on the ledge.
While Seven Stories has been performed at Mt. A before, this production of the dark comedy will be unique in many respects, primarily as a masked play—potentially a global first. Each character (other than the person on the side of the building) sports a bright, handmade mask over their face. “The style of the play is expressionistic, surrealistic—so this all could be taking place in a dream,” shares director Paul Griffin, Mt. A’s Crake Fellow in Drama. “Because the masks are distortions, and yet are real, […] it fits very nicely into the idea of it being an expressionistic world where they are larger than life.” Griffin’s interpretation of the script will also explore themes that other productions may not have in the past, such as identity, how we are perceived by other people, and the struggles and pains of trying to control that narrative.
“The rehearsal process has been amazing, absolutely amazing,” shares Skylar Côté, first-year music major in her debut MFT production, “The cast is a wonderful crew of people who have made me laugh harder than I ever have in my entire life. Just a lot of heart and soul into this journey.”
Côté plays the Person on the side of the building—another change on Griffin’s part to the original character, Man, in Panych’s script. As Griffin shares, “I feel like Panych, when he was writing it, has a kind of hidden thing where the character on the side of the building feels trapped in who they are. […] It’s a character who is uncertain of their place, who they are in their world […] For me the play is very much about a character coming to terms with the fact that they do not have an identity.”
Convinced of their identities and purpose, snooty art critics and religious zealots alike seem to goad Person on. “One of the things I find super interesting is how all of the characters who are in masks believe they figured out how life works, and none of them are happy,” Griffin says.
“It has been wonderful in being able to define this character,” Côté tells me. Her character, in this interpretation, is hesitant to be defined in any way, and to make any decisions at all. “I do resonate a lot with the journey of Person, as much as they are trying to find themselves, I had to go through that experience as a trans woman trying to find myself, and my gender and self-expression. […] There are times when you feel like you are emotionally on the side of a building. But once you find who you are, you feel safe to come down off that ledge and be who you are.”
Quinn WayLaing, third-year sociology major, also revels in the opportunity to play in a story with both nuance as a dark comedy and prominent physical theatre. “I think some of the most impactful art I’ve ever consumed is art that has dual messaging,” WayLaing shares, “in that you experience the thing you’re observing, and also ideas and thoughts percolate in the back of your brain. I think that Seven Stories does that so wonderfully. The script presents itself as quite zany. […] It’s really just like all these kooky, wacky, people, like, ‘what are they doing here?’ But you find that out and then you’re like, ‘oh that’s kind of beautiful’, and you laugh along the way.”
With a background in improv performing, WayLaing’s own Honor’s thesis partially explores “how much there is to learn from nontraditional spaces, like in the theatre, specifically in improv spaces, of embodying knowledge and talking it out with one another. I think that really knowing what it feels like to move around like a character can offer you a lot of insight into how you interact with the world in your quote-un-quote ‘regular life.’ There’s lots of cool moments of parallel there.”
“I think [Seven Stories] is something that is fresh, it’s different, which is ironic for a play having been written so long ago. […] I hope [audiences] leave with a reinvigorated sense of storytelling,” are WayLaing’s final words. Bursting with what Griffin calls the ‘humor of life,’ Seven Stories calls to the person in all of us who has stood on the metaphorical ledge, torn with the urge to jump, to decide, to exist as our true selves. After all, who knows? You might go down, yes. But you might go up.
Seven Stories runs at the Motyer-Fancy Theatre from March 29 to April 1. Tickets are $5 for students and seniors and $10 for the general public, and can be reserved by emailing [email protected].