First-year theatre troupe Renegade Theatre presented their latest show on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13 and 14 in Weaver Cottage, had everything necessary to keep an audience on the edge of their seats: mystery, humor, sadness, ghosts and intricate characters that kept you wanting to learn more.
St. Rabbit takes place in rural Tennessee and follows the lives of a dysfunctional family dealing with the loss of a runaway father and 16-year-old Eliza (or “Rabbit,” as her family calls her), who is confused, angry and depressed over her father’s absence. There’s a certain sadness that plagues the entire family, which they attribute to “the house.” Through their relationships and the house itself, the audience explores the ties between the family members and the true cause of their sadness.
What is particularly impressive about St. Rabbit, though, is that it was written by a first-year student here at Kenyon. Jack Rayson ’18, a board member for Renegade Theatre, worked on writing the show at the end of his senior year of high school. “I think St. Rabbit came from watching a lot of horror movies,” Rayson said. “I developed a huge appreciation for horror and psychological thrillers. I set out for it to be frightening, but not necessarily in a monster way, but in that people can be frightening in how stubborn they are and how unchanging they are.” He then teamed up at the end of the fall semester with Isabel Landers ’18, who directed the show. “I couldn’t stop reading the script when I first got it,” Landers said. “Doing this play, it was so different, and it just works, and I could just see it being so much more than just a freshman theater troupe’s midseason show.”
The biggest difficulty in this process was the fact that Landers and the cast of St. Rabbit were working with a script that Rayson still considered unfinished. “It’s always felt like a work-in-progress for me,” Rayson said. “I kept wanting to change things.” By Jan. 20, the cast was working with the final version of the script and they all truly had to pull their weight to bring the improved script to life. “My original goal was to have lines memorized over winter break,” Landers said, “but then Jack sent out a brand new copy of the script at the end of break with all the edits. So, they weren’t off-book until the beginning of February, which was a bit stressful.” Rayson and Landers agreed, however, that the edits were necessary for the understanding of the show. “It’s just gotten more streamlined,” Landers said. “There were some parts that became much more clarified.”
The performance space, Weaver Cottage, also added to the experience. St. Rabbit centers around the house and how it affects the family, and throughout, they blame the house for the bad things that happen to them. “You really felt like you were inside their house, and a part of the story,” Kirsti Buss ’18 said. The low lighting and the limited space absolutely allowed for a more intimate and personal experience, and when the lights came up at the end, the audience still felt stuck in the world of the characters.
The production featured the talents of first years Ashley Martens, Clare Livingston, Maya Lowenstein, Walter Michalski, Lane Yates and Sam Collins, who all effectively brought life and depth to their characters.
Michalski’s character, Adam, was particularly provoking. At first he came off as a silly old man, with his memorable tagline “I’m a mallard man!” regarding his love for ducks. He kept the audience engaged and brought humor to the show’s darker characters around him. However, by the end of the first act, Michalski brought light to some of Adam’s deeper emotions and delivered an absolutely stunning monologue about his encounter with God. As the play went on, Adam became less of a silly old man as he showed more of his pain and humanity. “He’s a fantastic actor, and there were so many layers to his character it was absolutely outstanding,” audience member Annie Devine ’18 said. Walter portrayed a perfect understanding of his character.
The rest of the cast did an outstanding job of portraying the characters, whether it was Yates’s apathetic and sarcastic attitude in his character Casey, Martens’ s mysterious and twisted portrayal of Rachel, or Livingston’s strong and emotional presence as a mother who didn’t quite know how to deal with her family. All of the characters brought something distinctive to the show.