To the untrained eye, a girls’ sleepaway camp may be an odd setting for a Greek drama. GUTPUNCH, by Liza Borghesani ’24, dispels that notion with ease and plenty of friendship bracelets. On Thursday and Saturday, Kenyon College Dance, Drama and Cinema Club held a staged reading of Borghesani’s original play in fulfillment of her senior exercise in Drama. GUTPUNCH’s stellar cast and strong script were on full display throughout the performance.
As Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and other anthems of girlhood played in the Hill Theater, the audience quickly transformed from a collection of Kenyon community members to the campers of Camp Lake Athena, a sleepaway camp inspired by Borghesani’s own adolescent summers spent in Rhode Island and Minnesota. “I sort of realized that all camps are the same,” she said in an interview with the Collegian. “We all kind of feel like our camp is the most special place — there’s nothing like it. But then, when I grew up, as a counselor, I was like, ‘oh, that’s kind of what they’re built on.”
Despite the universality of summer camp, Camp Lake Athena is a decidedly special place. After all, what other summer camp has a Greek chorus and a series of trials to decide who should be the captain of Color Wars? Borghesani drew on her fascination with Greek drama to inspire GUTPUNCH: “I’ve always been really interested in Greek structure, so I pulled a lot from that. And also I am just really interested in institutions and what happens when things go wrong. So my play’s a comedy, but at the heart of it was this exploration of what happens when institutions choose the institution over the people.”
GUTPUNCH follows Panny (Haley Sorkin ’25), Cassie (Maya van Overbeeke-Costello ’25) and Helen (Charlie Mobasser ’27) in their final year as campers at Camp Lake Athena. Panny is a high-strung legacy, destined for greatness in Color Wars. Helen desperately seeks affection and acceptance, but finds an enemy in Panny. And Cassie just wants her last summer in this safe haven of girlhood to be perfect. The quest to become captain is fraught from the get-go, as camp director Paul (MJ Farrell ’24) and the Chorus (Zoey FitzGerald Kidwell ’24, Dawsen Mercer ’26 and Ava Mascuch ’24) try to find the girl who will save the camp at any cost. Camp Lake Athena is in financial trouble, and the neighboring boys’ camp is ready to pounce and bring about coeducation, destroying the girls-only paradise of the camp. There is a clear finality to the summer captured in GUTPUNCH as the stakes rise with every trial to choose a captain, and friendships, both old and new, emerge and fall apart. The fallout of Cassie being named captain and the Machiavellian betrayal of FitzGerald Kidwell’s chorus member keep Act II grounded, while the Color Wars, complete with audience participation and a hilarious slow-motion sequence, prevent the play’s conclusion from sinking into cliché or melodrama. After rescuing Camp Lake Athena from both the boys and itself, Panny, Cassie and Helen leave for the last time as the unexpected saviors of the camp.
Each member of the cast was perfectly suited for their role. Sorkin was excellently immature, and every former or current overachiever was sure to see a bit too much of themselves in her performance. Mobasser brought a cloying sweetness to Helen at first, but she masterfully transformed into a deeply loyal and lovable friend as the play continued. As Cassie, van Overbeeke-Costello was the emotional core of the trio, trapped between loyalty to Panny, kindness to Helen and duty to the camp. FitzGerald Kidwell’s twisted idealism, Mercer’s dramatic commitment to Helen and Mascuch’s quiet wisdom formed a perfect triumvirate, and Farrell brought comedy and realism through their portrayal of the downtrodden and business-minded Paul.
Borghesani’s script was equally wonderful. GUTPUNCH treated the audience to sly references to Greek mythology — Panny, Cassie, Helen and Paul each took their names and key traits from Pandora, Cassandra, Helen of Troy and Apollo — and self-aware jokes about similar women-only institutions — such as when one member of the Chorus quipped, “This is not Radcliffe, we will not be bought out.” FitzGerald Kidwell’s monologue at the start of Act II, which contained both a recap of Act I and a plea to the Drama Department to give Borghesani an A on her senior exercise, particularly highlighted the play’s clever sense of humor.
However, GUTPUNCH especially soared in the moments when the audience wasn’t laughing. I spent intermission and my walk home from the Hill Theater contemplating the dynamics between Panny, Cassie and Helen, which expertly captured the heartbreak of growing up and being a girl. The dialogue between Panny at her most ambitious and Cassie at her most ignored felt entirely lived-in and realistic, as Panny chased her dreams at whatever cost and Cassie had to decide whether she could still hold onto her best friend. Their eventual reconciliation at the conclusion of the play was well earned, and I felt a genuine sense of relief watching the two friends forgive each other. The evolution of the friendship between Helen and the other two girls was equally well developed. Helen’s transformation from the most-hated girl in camp to a beloved friend to both Panny and Cassie was a hopeful and heartwarming conclusion to the summer’s trials. The deep love that Borghesani developed between all three girls over the course of the play anchored GUTPUNCH, granting it deep emotional resonance. GUTPUNCH is not a show that I will soon forget. Borghesani deftly wove together elements of Greek drama and the classic tropes of summer camp, telling a wonderful story of girlhood. Though GUTPUNCH’s run at Kenyon has concluded, Borghesani hopes to continue working on the play. “I am a playwright, and I’m going to keep writing, so there’s already things I know I need to clarify and change,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes next, but it’s definitely not the end.”