Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
“It started as an attempt to slow down time,” said Swift Shuker-Haines ‘14 about Lex & Goldaline: A Mirror Fugue In Three Acts, their directorial thesis being staged this weekend. “Swarthmore has a very fast-paced time signature, and I was wondering if I could create a world where time would slow down.”
The play itself focuses on Lex (Leonie Cohen ‘16 and Doriana Thornton ‘16) and Goldaline (Fae Montgomery ‘17 and Naia Poyer ‘14). Each sister is portrayed by two different actresses, representing different times in their lives. Performed in nonlinear fragments, the play captures the two at their childhood and adolescence.
“When you go into the theater you’re going to be split into two groups where you’ll see two story lines. Then you’ll switch. You’ll see the younger versions of these people and you’ll see the older versions,” Shuker-Haines said.
However, the set is constructed to allow the scenes being performed simultaneously to bleed into each other.
“As you go, you’ll hear either the future or the memories through the walls of the rooms we’ve constructed,” Shuker-Haines said. “You can hear things from the other world in your world.” In some scenes, the older and younger versions of Lex and Goldaline meet and interact.
Complexly staged, the performance occurs in a house in the Frear constructed by the company for the show. All of the action is shown in different rooms of the house. The audience stands and observes the action taking place in each room. As the story progresses, the audience is led from room to room by the characters themselves. There are frequent interactions between the performers and observers: the space between the actors and the audience throughout the performance is minimal to nonexistent.
The play was devised through a collaborative process between Shuker-Haines and the actors. “I would give writing prompts, and we would just sort of free write,” Shuker-Haines said. These short written pieces were then reinterpreted as performances. “We would take the text that people wrote, and redistribute it – I would take what somebody wrote and give it to someone else to make a performance piece about it.”
These performances were experimentally combined with each other, which eventually allowed the final product to emerge. “We had multiple ones happening on the stage at the same time, and we saw how they played against each other,” Shuker-Haines said. “Out of that, we ended up finding these characters and situations and eventually constructed the storylines you’ll see in the show.”
While the major events of the play are fixed, there is still some flexibility within each performance. “The structure of the conversations is set, but the individual words within change day to day,” Shuker-Haines said. However, there are important lines that are completely set in stone.
Shuker-Haines’s interest in exploring the way performances could move began with their experience over the summer with an experimental theater ensemble. “I was working with New Paradise Laboratories, and they were working on a piece called ‘The Adults.’ I was watching them, and I was fascinated by how slow time was going.”
For this piece, Shuker-Haines also had an interest in portraying quieter, more intimate moments not generally shown in plays. “All stories of romance on stage are either ‘you don’t touch each other’ or ‘you kiss’,” said Shuker-Haines, who expressed a desire to see “actual naturalism” play out with this piece. The lack of space between the action and the audience makes it easier to show these subtle actions.
“We had a rehearsal where people had made a dance piece. I was like, ‘Okay, I like this piece. I like the relationship you’re constructing. I want you to do this piece and tell the same story, but I want you to be cuddling on this bed,” Shuker-Haines said.
Shuker-Haines was impressed by the results. “Time was dilating. Everything had this huge amount of import around it because it was this incredibly simple action,” they said. The play is unique for being full of these slow, affectionate moments between the characters.
The unique staging and the engaging interactions between cast members distinguish Lex & Goldaline from other plays. Standing inside each room, time really does seem to get progressively slower as each scene gradually unfolds.
Featured image by Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15/The Daily Gazette.