By, Jilleen Barrett, Features Editor & Managing Editor
They came, they saw, they sold out.
The Manhattan College Players performed in “Play On!”, a disastrous play within a hilarious play, which proved to be a success after all three shows sold out. The Quadrangle got the chance to see the performance during the show’s open dress rehearsal and talk to some of the players afterward.
The show was directed by Maddie Byrne and RJ Giannicchi, who were described by cast member Lauren Duggan as giving “free rein” to their actors to “make our characters our own.”
One of the most notable aspects of the play was the stark attention to detail, from the costumes to the props to the emphasis on dramaturgy, which Byrne described to The Quadrangle.
“Dramaturgy is mostly character work and mostly there to help people better understand and better embody their characters,” Byrne said.
Byrne credits dramaturgy work to Synne Iversen Kverndal, who had the idea to create a second playbill for the play within the play, which was called “A Murder Most Foul.”
“It really helps the people — especially all the actors — really get into their characters to write out these bios,” they said.
The actors in the play enjoyed working with dramaturgy, especially when it came to developing their characters’ relationships. Duggan and Tess Nunan played Gerry and Phyllis, the director and playwright of “A Murder Most Foul,” who did not get along very well.
“[Playing Gerry is] very similar to what I did as stage manager,” Duggan, who previously served as a stage manager for Players, said. “It’s a lot of yelling.”
Duggan explained how messing around with dramaturgy and giving their characters a pre-existing relationship helped her and Nunan become more comfortable with their characters.
“We both did a lot of character work and kind of gave our characters background,” Duggan said. “We did that through working with the dramaturgy work we did with the show, like we made bios and directors notes and author notes and stuff like that. So that was definitely a huge part of it.”
According to Nunan, her main director’s note was to do more with the character. Phyllis is a somewhat dramatic character who demands a lot from the actors bringing her scenes to life, which Nunan says she doesn’t identify with in real life.
“I would be struggling with it because I’m a very shy person in real life, and I’m not one to just yell … so it was hard to go big and hard to be that person,” Nunan said. “But once I remember our director [Byrne] pulled me aside and was like, ‘It’s just kind of click one day, and then you’re going to be good.’”
Nunan’s cast members felt she pulled off the role so much that they struggled to stay in character themselves.
“[Nunan] is so talented, she’s so much fun and just such a great person,” Duggan said. “The way she played the character was so funny … Every scene I would have to act like I was so mad at her, but she was so funny. There’s definitely a few times during rehearsals where I could not keep a straight face.”
Both actresses spoke about how their makeup and costumes helped them figure out who Phyllis and Gerry were, too.
“Sydney Collins was the costume designer for this show,” Duggan said. “She came in and she had kind of like a little bit of ideas for each character. The show was written in the 1980s by Jack Sharkey under the pen name Rick Abbott … I think [Collins] had the idea to put us all in 80s costumes for the parts where we’re not like in an actual costume, and I love that idea. I thought it was so fun.”
Nunan had to wear heavy blue eyeshadow, lightning bolt shaped earrings and brightly colored berets, which she says all came from her own closet, but it is not how she would typically dress.
“It was totally crazy having to wear that much makeup and we kind of went with the 80s theme,” Nunan said. “And it was cool drawing those pieces and being like ‘Phyllis would wear this’ and putting it on like, ‘Okay, this is the person I’ve been playing and now there she is in the mirror,’ and it’s crazy.”
Luis Chavez and Jillian Tuthill, who played Violet and Billy, had a similar relationship to develop for the show. Violet and Billy had a secret relationship, which drew audience member’s attention away from the original plot of the play.
Chavez and Tuthill spoke to The Quadrangle about developing this relationship and how their bios helped them get to know each other as they got to know their characters.
“We didn’t really know each other until we started working on the show,” Chavez said. “And I feel like [Tuthill] and I naturally got along. And then we started hanging out and doing stuff together for the show … that developed into a friendship. We [worked] on the bios together … I feel like it’s about developing real friendships and real connections with the people before you can have that kind of connection on stage.”
Tuthill felt the same way, specifically mentioning that figuring out the relationship between the pair that existed before the show was important, like Duggan and Nunan said.
“So that whole time it was you know, in your bios you’re supposed to write about what you do outside of rehearsals,” Tuthill said. “You know, everything that makes you who you are outside of a show. One of the first things that [Chavez] and I did together was to kind of establish our character and thinking about ‘Okay, what are the things that Violet and Billy would be doing outside of rehearsal?’”
Tuthill says she enjoyed playing her character for many reasons outside of the romantic aspects of the role as well.
“My character is supposed to be kind of an airhead,” Tuthill said. “So I had so much fun just totally zoning out and doing random things for people on stage and with the props and everything and just totally going off on what was happening.”
After the play wrapped up, the players received some news: Chavez and Nunan had been nominated for Irene Ryan awards, with Tuthill and Matt Herlihy — who played Henry — nominated as their backups if they don’t choose to compete for the award.
Chavez explained that the Irene Ryan award is an award for actors through the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Nominees and their backups get the chance to travel to a regional competition where they perform monologues. Winners receive a scholarship.
Byrne expressed how proud they were of everyone involved in the play, whether they were nominated or not.
“I am blown away by everybody’s talent consistently and always,” they said. “I think I will forever be really in awe of the fact that we took this show in a month and made an amazing product — and I can’t be like, ‘Oh, it’s all my work.’ It’s the work of everybody else, and especially [Giannicchi] really keeping me grounded during this process … I’m just really proud of everybody.”