Patrick Ross’s Directing Thesis, “Here in My Garden,” took audiences in the four times-packed Frear theater across time and space to a place where “infamous” women converge. The hauntingly beautiful score, engaging performances, and often hysterical script made up for the two lost hours of Sunday homework several times over.
In the play, powerful women from Margaret Thatcher to Wu Zetian meet in a garden, where they offer support and consolation to one another as they attempt to make their mark in a man’s world. The premise is, in itself, exceptional. Ross gives women a chance to resist histories written to demonize them for pushing the perceived limits of their gender. The bond of womanhood — the imagined relationships between these women who, despite the centuries and thousands of miles separating them, understand each other — is striking, especially considering the play was written by a man.
Some of the women’s stories were more interesting than others, to be sure. It was hard to follow the plot during scenes that featured some of the more obscure characters, given that little biographical information was provided. Certain performances, however, were so brilliant that they surpassed many of these challenges. Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15, who played a defamed opera-singing, sword-fighting, openly bisexual French woman from the late 17th century, was one of them. Her shameless coquetry, often addressed to the audience, maintained the play’s dynamism. She delivered comedy brilliantly when the plot became dense and dazzled with her pronounced swagger every time she took the stage.
Though the fact that her character was the best known might have helped, Michaela Shuchman ’16 stole the show as Margaret Thatcher. Her accent was impeccable and her subtle expressions were a perfectly-timed comedy act on their own. As an Argentinean, I have in the past made a point of not sympathizing with the Iron Lady, but Schuchman made it impossible not to. The honesty and quick wit in her performance revealed a troubled mother, trying to hold together a country that scrutinized and villainized her regardless of the choices she made.
Desta Pulley ’17, who played Queen Nzinga Mbande of what is now Angola, was also significant in this regard. An especially poignant moment in the play occurred during one of her scenes, in which she questioned a colonist’s portrayal of her time as ruler. Her disbelief and outrage over her own vilification — “Are you serious? Are you fucking serious?” — was not just convincing, but extremely powerful.
The music, written by theater faculty member Elizabeth Atkinson with lyrical contributions from Kimaya Diggs ’15, was beautiful. With the exception of one song, the score was entirely cohesive, creating an atmosphere of hope amidst pain and desperation. Campus a cappella group Grapevine’s performance at the beginning of the show was especially enchanting, as well as Diggs’ entire vocal performance and Pulley’s bewitching rendition of “Follow You.”
The end before the end was perfect, albeit horrifying. The two men in the play, Cooper Harrington-Fei ’17 and Andrew Gilchrist-Scott ’16, addressed the group of women, who had once again convened, with an increasingly loud chant — “bitch.” Having gotten to know these characters, the scene felt especially violent, shocking. But the women drowned them out with their song, strengthened by their solidarity. The play should have, perhaps, ended there, though the actual conclusion was satisfying enough.
If this play were still being shown, it would undoubtedly merit you dropping everything to spend a few hours in what was, indeed, a delightful garden.