c/o Victoria Dozer

c/o Victoria Dozer

“Leave If No Response,” an original play written by Abby Fisher ’23, was performed in the Russell House on Friday, April 14 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 15 at 5 p.m., and Sunday, April 16 at 2 p.m. The show follows the lives of two Jewish girls—Mira (Kyra Kushner ’24) and Ariel (Cate Levy ’24)—and the ties that connect them as they progress from childhood to adulthood. Through storytelling that depicts characters’ parallel lives, “Leave If No Response” explores themes of friendship, queerness, tradition, Judaism, and growing up.

Standing outside of the Russell House, we didn’t really know what to expect, though we were excited for the performance. The audience was ushered in and people shuffled into seats placed in the archway between the two rooms on the right side of the building. People were scattered on the floor in front of the chairs and couches designated for audience members. The atmosphere felt quite homey, as the world of the play was contained to the cozy front room on the right side of the building. As we took our seats, a couch with a pillow and blanket draped over in it greeted us from the middle of the room. After the opening announcements, the lights dimmed and the actors took their positions on stage.

When the play begins, Mira and Ariel are around the ages of 12 or 13, and they’ve come to Mira’s house to play a game where they pretend to be a couple. One assumes the role of “the boy” and the other “the girl.” They engage in a hyper-exaggerated make-out session, but are careful to place their thumbs between their lips so they aren’t technically kissing. Their relationship throughout the play is complex, often blurring the lines between friendship and romance. 

As the two girls grow older, they grow apart. There is a rupture between them when Ariel comes out as a lesbian and Mira doesn’t know how to react. 

“The first half of the play deals with their friendship, and their conflicting ideas of what it means to be Jewish, especially in an Orthodox community…and the second half shows what their parallel lives look like, and talks about the decision to stay in Orthodoxy versus the decision to leave,” Director Talia Rodriguez ’24 said.  

Mira chooses to embrace Orthodoxy and live out her life as an Orthodox woman, while Ariel chooses to live as an open lesbian in a queer relationship. Both get married and seem happy in the paths they’ve chosen, but are haunted by the past and questions of “what if?”

“Both of them…feel pride in their choices, but there’s also the question of what life would have been, and carrying the weight of religious trauma and community isolation,” Rodriguez said. 

Fisher originally wrote this show way back in her sophomore year during “Advanced Playwriting” (THEA 399), taught by Assistant Professor of the Practice of Theater Edwin Sanchez. As this was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fisher took the class remotely from home, where she was surrounded by her family and high school friends. 

“I was in my bedroom, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just write this silly play, where I try to remember what it sounded like when me and my friends would play, make believe when we were 10, 11, 12,’” Fisher said. “And then I was like, ‘Oh, something’s happening here.’ I would go on these walks in the neighborhood and see all these people from elementary school that I hadn’t seen in a while. I’d walk past the synagogue I used to go to and be like, ‘Okay, here I am, again, as this not fully formed, but more formed person interacting with all these spaces that I haven’t thought about in a long time.’”

Fisher described what it felt like to revisit this show now as a senior. When rereading the script, she found that she was writing the show from a perspective of what she imagined it would be like to live as an openly Jewish, queer person in the world before she 100% was. Comparing what she thought her experiences would be like to what they ended up being was very thought-provoking for her.

“Towards the end of deep shutdown and quarantine…was when I actually started coming out to my family and in public as a lesbian, queer person,” Fisher said. “Seeing the ways that I imagined what it would look like for someone to live as a fully realized queer person before I was that fully realized queer person is a super interesting thing. Like, how did I think this might look? And how is that different? Seeing all the places where I, you know, hadn’t grown yet, and seeing the ways that I’ve grown now. Watching people engage with this kind of nascent form of who I was and take it really seriously and tell it as the story that it is, is really weird. It’s like listening back to an audio recording of yourself where you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s how I sound like?’”

One of the greatest strengths of “Leave If No Response” is how well the script balances serious, heart-wrenching subjects with moments of fun and lightheartedness. Watching the show, we couldn’t stop laughing at the over-the-top antics of homophobic teacher Morah Sarah (Jamie Steinman ’24) and the image of Mira writing in her journal while “Sweater Weather” by The Neighborhood played in the background. However, by the end of the piece, we were both in tears about the girls’ complicated relationship and the beautiful portrayal of growing up.

“When I first read [the script], I felt really sad,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t really understand how I was going to do [with such sad content], but the cast actors are incredibly comedic and have great emotional depth. Seeing them bring the words to life is so joyous, because they really hit these incredible [moments], I’m just laughing.” 

A moment that really stood out was a phone call between Mira and Ariel at the end of Act I. Afterwards, each character makes their own decision about how to live their lives. During this scene, Mira and Ariel are on opposite sides of the room: Mira is sitting on her bed while Ariel is at her desk. Besides the physical distance separating them, there is also a mirror in the middle of the stage which distinguishes each character’s space. Ariel calls Mira multiple times, only to have Mira get agitated before finally picking up the phone at the third or fourth ring. Following a tense conversation, Ariel admits to Mira that she has feelings for her. Mira, quite flustered at this point, hangs up abruptly. Then Mira faces the audience and begins speaking to us. In her monologue, she describes the feeling of picking at the skin around your fingernails, and how it’s like an itch you need to scratch, even when it hurts and the bright red flesh underneath the skin is exposed. Then Ariel stands and faces the audience. She speaks about always tasting metal in her mouth. Describing the balance between the sweet and the salty in her life, she conveys how she craves that sweetness though it isn’t there. During each character’s monologue, the other changes their outfit as a symbol of their final choice: Mira puts on a long black skirt that almost touches the floor while Ariel changes into a pair of pants. 

When asked about what she hoped to leave the audience with in writing this play, Fisher explained that she wants to showcase different parts of someone’s identity and what it can look like to wrestle with each part.

“I hope to present the two characters as two models of what it looks like to wrestle with different parts of your identity,” Fisher said. “But I don’t want people leaving, thinking that one made a lesser choice. Even if it seems like there may be a little bit more pain for one of them at the end. And I just think as one of my characters says towards the end, ‘It’s brave to ask questions. It’s also brave to think of questions and to not ask them.’ And I guess just leaving people with the idea that it’s okay to wrestle. It’s okay to not be sure.”

Rodriguez reflected that seeing the show come together has been fulfilling, and she is grateful for the team involved in bringing this production to life. 

“The show, the cast, the team is full of chutzpah, [which is] a Yiddish word for exuberance and attitude and guts,” Rodriguez said. “I think that’s what I see from the show…. It feels authentic and it feels like [we] worked hard to make it something beautiful.”


Sabrina Ladiwala can be reached at sladiwala@wesleyan.edu.

Kat Struhar can be reached at kstruhar@wesleyan.edu.

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