Last weekend students flocked to the third floor of Allbritton for a special experience: to hear and discuss a new play in the making, written by one of our peers. For two nights only, this simple study room was transformed into the subconscious of a woman named Amelia, who falls asleep in Hoboken, New Jersey and dreams herself into a late-night Parisian café with her favorite composer. Through these dreams, Amelia explores her deepest desires with a fresh sense of transparency, searching for contentedness in a life without ecstasy. The Argus sat down with May Treuhaft-Ali ’17, Sam Raby ’17, and Maya Herbsman ’17, the writer, director, and stage manager of “Rêve D’Amour, Op. 5-2,” respectively, to talk about the play, the process of putting on a staged reading, and the future of playwriting at Wes.
The Argus: How would you describe the play to those who didn’t get to see it?
May Treuhaft-Ali: I hate this question!
Sam Raby: On a basic level, the play follows the story of a young woman [Amelia, played by Gwen Rosen ’15] who’s about to get married, and has a lot of hesitations about her marriage. And she dreams about her favorite composer [Gabriel Fauré, played by David Peck ’17], and ends up having a love affair with him in her dream. And this is a recurring thing that happens throughout her life. And I think that the purpose of Fauré in the play is not necessarily to change her, but to plant a question in her mind as to what she’s really looking for in her life.
When I decided I was going to direct this over winter break, I showed the script to my parents, and I still remember the thing that my mom said about it. She said, “You know, something about this play lets me know that it had to be written by someone who still knows how to dream.” And I think that’s a very important part of this play. The character of Amelia is someone who is on the trajectory to live a very basic, very cookie-cutter lifestyle, and is happy with that. And then this character who’s actually just a part of her, because this character appears in her dreams, hints at the fact that there may be something more, there may be something she loves more in life, instead of just marrying someone who makes her genuinely happy and settling for that. Having a love affair, the idea of having a love affair is this idea of following your deepest, most ridiculous fantasies
and committing to them.
Honestly, though, I don’t think the play really argues too strongly in either way. Amelia wants to have a love affair but then just decides she’s going to stay with her fiancé and grows old with him. And [at the talkback] a lot of people were like, “Oh, why did she choose the worse track? Why did she end up so sad?” And May put it really well; she pointed out that the truth is, she probably had a really happy life, living the really structured, basic lifestyle that a lot of people are expected to live. So this play’s purpose, I think, is to ask a question, rather than to answer it.
MTA: Yeah, a lot of people have asked me why Amelia didn’t just leave Max, her husband, at the altar. And to me, that’s not the tragedy of this play. The tragedy of this play is not Amelia getting married to Max. It’s not her living the life she lives. The tragedy of this play is…I don’t know…
SR: I think I know what the tragedy of this play is.
MTA: What is the tragedy of this play?
SR: If you want to make it sound really sad, the tragedy of this play is that no matter what you choose, you’re never going to be fully satisfied. It’s never going to be all right; you’re always going to have regrets.
Maya Herbsman: Yeah, I think a lot of people responded to that, that I have talked to. It really brings up this fear of…
SR: Of not doing the right thing.
MH: Yeah. And like, to quote you, May, in the play, that I’m never going to hear that major chord. And that fear is so real, and I think that’s something that people responded to.
A: You talk a lot about musical dissonance in the play. Do you have a music background?
MTA: Yeah, yeah. Sam and I are both music theory nerds. I’m mildly obsessed. And I’ve known Fauré’s music my whole life. I’ve written a lot of plays, and in every single one of them there is either a visual artist, like a painter, or a musician, or both, or multiple of both. And that’s not something I do on purpose, but I think that in a play it’s really important to use sound and color, image and music, to convey emotion. Because some things you just can’t express with words. Like the whole metaphor of dissonance, I don’t even know how to put that into words in a conceptual way. I can’t do it. And if I did do it, it wouldn’t be that effective. But because I used a sound, which is another sensory experience entirely, that metaphor made sense to so many people. And I think on some level I’m fascinated by what it means to be an artist, be that as a musician, or a writer, or a painter, or any other kind of artist. But I really think just for practical purposes, the music makes the world of this play. The music is part of what turned the Allbritton third- floor study room into Paris.
A: So you wrote this play when you were in high school, right?
MTA: Mhm. I wrote the first scene junior year, about half way through junior year. And then I set it aside. I was like, “Oh, that’s cute. It’s like a seven-page play. I’m probably never going to do anything with it.” And I kept it away for a little bit, and then the next summer I was just sort of thinking to myself and I was like, “I’m not really done with these characters yet. There’s a lot more there that I could explore.” And also I wanted to expand it because I really liked the first scene, but I didn’t really think it would suffice as a full play. So I sort of talked to the characters more in my head, got to know them a little better, hung out with them for a few months. And then in the winter of my senior year I wrote scenes two, three, and four.
A: So why’d you decide to put it on here and now?
MTA: Well, it very much feels like it’s still alive to me, this play. A lot of plays, I write them, I edit them, maybe I get them produced somewhere, but, you know, afterwards I’m like, “That was nice, and now it’s done. This play can live under my bed, and that’s that.” I don’t and have never felt that way about this play. I don’t feel done with it. This play still feels very much living and present. And I’m actually really surprised sometimes that…I think I’ve changed so much in the past two years, and yet something I wrote two years ago still feels very immediate and real and present in my life. And then, the missing link came in when this guy over here, Sam, read my play, just sort of for fun. He was like, “Oh you wrote a play? Send it to me!” and I was like, “O.K., Sam.” And he was like, “Wait, I love this. I want to direct this.” And he said one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said about this play. He said, “I literally just sat in my bed and thought about this play for thirty minutes.” And I was like, “I trust you to do this play. If you like it that much and if you’re that interested in it, just run with it!”
A: What was it like for you, [Sam], directing a new play?
SR: I really loved this play just because I thought there were so many different ways it could be interpreted, there were so many different directions that you could take it. To be honest, in the beginning I was kind of a little scared… I’ve only directed one full-length play in my high school before so I’m, you know, fairly new to directing. And I told May, “I’m not sure I’m really capable to put on this play.” I had a lot of doubts about that, but it was just one fantastic script to work with. We got two really driven and amazing actors to work with. A lot of the work was done for me, I think, and the work that I needed to do, or that I wanted to do, May was there to help me with that too. But I would say, definitely it was the kind of experience where I felt like I was kind of learning as I went through it. I didn’t necessarily come into this process knowing this is exactly my directing style and this is exactly how I wanted to approach this script. And a lot of the work that I did with this was collaborative with both May and the actors. And that was something that I felt strongly about, that it wasn’t just about what I wanted the play to be, but what all of us wanted it to be. And I’m really happy with the final product.
A: How do you think your actors affected the play? How did it change how you saw it at the start and the finish?
MTA: For me, the character of Amelia is very much dependent on who is playing her. I’ve seen it played three different ways. I’ve seen Amelia played as sort of a damsel in distress/heroine. I’ve seen her played very shy, and nervous, and sort of scared and quiet. And then Gwen brought something completely different to the character. I think that with Amelia…yeah, she’s smart; she’s sassy. There are moments where she just doesn’t take bullshit. And she makes decisions for herself. And there are moments where she’s horribly vulnerable. To each actress who plays her, different parts of Amelia’s character speak to them and they bring those out more. And Gwen made her fun, Gwen made her cute. Gwen brought a lot of emotional immediacy to the character, which I thought was very engaging.
A: The playwriting workshop is something that’s relatively new to Second Stage. How has that experience been?
MTA: Well, I am helping Dylan [Zwickel ’14] with starting up Any Stage, which is a program and support system for student playwrights. It’s basically a network through which you can find actors, directors, and audiences for your play, and you can do staged readings and stuff. I think, especially right now, there is so much student-generated work. Most of the Second Stage season this semester is student-written; I think we only needed rights for, like, two plays. And that’s really really exciting. As a playwright, I am so so excited to be surrounded by other playwrights. I know who some of them are, I definitely don’t know who all of them are, and I’m excited to work with these people and be a support system for them, have them be a support system for me. Having a community of playwrights is so inspiring, and it motivates you to write. It reminds you of why you love writing. When you’re like, “No, I hate this! Why do I do this to myself? Playwriting is just self-humiliation. Why do I do this ever?!” Then you talk to your friend who writes plays and you’re like, “Oh, that’s why.” So, yeah. I’m so excited to see where student playwriting at Wesleyan goes. And I’m really excited to be part of this. I’m really excited that this play went up this semester, as a season of almost all student-generated pieces. We’re moving to exciting places for playwriting.