Last weekend on LPAC main stage a student theater production took place, transforming the grand space into an intimate environment between student and actor. With a bed as its centerpiece, actors wandered around on stage before the show began, in a moment between performance and normal life that brought the audience into the reality of the show they were about to see.
“Bedroom Scene” is a play written and directed by Clare Grundstein ’20 and produced by Drama Board, which contained a series of vignettes about women in various bedrooms and the various struggles and expectations they faced. The stage was set up with a single room formed with black wooden slats marking the three walls and a single bed marking the center of the room. Throughout the many scenes, posters and clocks were employed to denote the different spaces, ranging from a mattress commercial to a hospital through the repertoire of scenes.
Additionally, the space on stage that was not used for the bedroom had a smattering of furniture and a costume rack that actors not “on stage” interacted with to stay in character between scenes. Risers from the Frear Ensemble Theater were relocated to the Pearson-Hall Theatre, so that those in the front row were level with the LPAC stage. In such a large space, this was impressively intimate.
The five actors in the show each brought out great moments in their many required roles. Each actor played up to five different characters, with costume changes and tone shifts for each piece. They all handled their performances excellently by making the tough transitions and extreme highs and lows remarkably believable and poignant. Three first years debuted in the show — Zane Irwin ’23, Zivia Lichtenberg ’23, and Randall Johanningsmeier ’23 — alongside seasoned actors Lydia Churchill ’22 and Grace Dumdaw ’21. With only six weeks of rehearsal, they each brought their best acting to this challenging play. Grundstein discussed the origins and what she wanted from the play.
“Writing ‘Bedroom Scene’ came less from a place of inspiration/creativity than it did a place of need, I think. My first couple years of college were incredibly hard — I found myself constantly trapped in situations that left me feeling ugly, unloved, and like my inability to find intimacy and connection were indicative of something wrong with me.”
In this state of mind, she began to write vignettes, but because she “never felt like much of a storyteller,” she decided to spread out her thoughts. It was through this that the play gained its shape, as an “album play” of ten scenes with the first and last subtly referencing each other.
The scenes ranged in topic, but all centered around women’s roles in the bedroom and the problems in their personal relationships. The play thoughtfully represented the various expectations for the women and their relationships and highlighted themes not always represented on stage. The themes included topics of expectations through porn and other media, as well as experiences of LGBTQ people in relationships. A few standout scenes included one between Irwin and Dumdaw, in which Irwin’s character is powerfully rebuked after proposing to Dumdaw’s, despite having been separated for a month. Another is one between Lichtenberg and Irwin, in which Lichtenberg’s character poetically monologued about how trapped she felt in her relationship and the lengths that it drove her to, using the metaphor of blankets being layered on top of her to discuss the sweat and anxiety she felt from each aspect. Grundstein also referenced the staging and set of the stage arising “out of a need … much like the play itself.” Without the large amount of funding it took to develop and build a large set, Grundstein and the production team began “sketching” ideas with what they had.
“This play is about intimacy that ebbs and flows and distorts itself, so I loved the idea of taking a literal Swarthmore dorm bed, building a room … around it, and surrounding that room with, essentially, a junkyard of items that one might find in any bedroom,” Grundstein said. “It helped amplify the idea that these characters could be anybody,” a point Grundstein wanted to emphasize. With the risers, Grundstein purposely embraced the idea of keeping the audience close and making them painfully aware of what was happening, and on all accounts it worked.
Despite the progressive and powerful nature of the play, it did have a few flaws. The way the audience was arranged was interesting but it also limited the number of people who could see the show, despite the overall size of the theater itself. Additionally, every scene focused on a character in pain without a scene of characters in a good or constructive relationship to break from the trend. While time was limited and Grundstein wanted to cover a lot of ground, adding contrast would prove more of the point in the other scenes by showing how depraved and toxic the behavior of some of the characters was.
“My greatest hope is that this play is able to touch someone who felt that same kind of loneliness I wrestled with when I wrote it two years ago,” Grundstein concluded. “I hope it encourages those same people to make art that tells their own stories, to invest time and energy in their own healing.” With the stories she told and the reality behind them, I’d say she did just that: bring a brilliant show to the Swarthmore community.
Featured image taken by Atziri Marquez for The Phoenix