Last Friday, just hours after receiving the email notifying us of the suspension of classes due to the coronavirus and still in a state of shock, I went to see the Spring Smorgasbord at Risley’s theater. The theater was full, and I could hear the buzz of anxious conversation. Everyone was on edge, but once the play started we all were able to tear our minds away from Cornell’s chaos and bring back a semblance of normalcy.
Smorgasbord is a collection of five ten-minute plays and two monologues put on by Cog Dog, which is an entirely student-run theatre troupe, founded in 2015 to provide an alternative, approachable theatre troupe for Cornell students. Four of the plays are student written, and all were directed by and star students. While not explicitly interconnected, each play brought the audience a glimpse into the characters’ lives. As the producers wrote in the program, they “enjoyed watching the very human responses to extreme circumstances within each play.” Nothing strikes me as more topical now than human reactions to the extreme — we are all literally living in an extreme situation that will go down in the history books. How we choose to act in this time carries much weight, just as how the characters’ responses define their personalities.
In the first play, Gin Before Dinner, written by Regina Lassiter ’21, a young woman reluctantly reconnects with her father when he visits her comedy set at a bar after she drunkenly called him the previous night.
The first monologue, Evan Calls Sis, by Quinn Theobald ’22, follows Evan repeatedly leaving distressed and emotional voicemails to his sister, slowly revealing his emotions around his mother’s recent death and his relationship to his sister as he goes from indifferent to angry to desperate.
Smorgasbord continued with Sylvia II: The Awakening of Callie, written and directed by Sydney Wolfe ’20. In this, a disillusioned drama teacher discovers that her dog, Callie, can talk. A comedic and heartwarming conversation between a woman and her dog reflects the feelings of disenchantment with our lives which we all feel sometimes.
Reality, written by Aaran Leviton ’20 and grad student Anna Evtushenko, explores the potential ability of technology to control us. Footsteps, written by Audrey Rytting ’21, follows a budding romance on a camping trip and a ghost story that quickly turns real. In the second monologue, Thank You So Much for Stopping, written by Halley Feiffer, a woman nonchalantly chats, while stopped on the side of the road, about how she accidentally killed her husband.
And, on the theme of murder, the final play, Bright. Apple. Crush. written by Steve Yockey, masterfully interweaves three people telling the stories of why they committed murder: a boyfriend getting back at his abusive partner, a woman enraged by her cheating wife, a teacher poisoning her evil students. Each person spoke in turn, jumping from one to another and then speaking over each other in a crescendo of emotion ending in numb acceptance of their fate.
Before the show, I sat down with the producers, Rowan Yearley ’21 and Nicole Guillen ’21 to learn about their goals with Smorgasbord. As Guillen explained, similar to the overall goal of Cog Dog to make theater more accessible to students, with this play they “wanted to cater to all” and have many “different flavors.” “This play has a little something for everyone, honestly,” said Yearley. It was evident from the smiles on people’s faces after the show that it had made a unique impact on everyone.
The producers described the plays as focusing on the human condition. “It shines a light on these various different people who have a lot of things going on and who are forced to confront or deal with that in some way or another. And sometimes it’s more mundane, sometimes it’s more extreme, but they all sort of have that unifying characteristic,” explained Yearley. There was something very compelling about watching the characters struggle through life on stage as the world around us descends into a pandemic. Life must go on, and our actions are important.
As the producers said at the start of the play, “The show will go on.” The collective experience of watching a play together after receiving such crazy news moved me. It reminded me that in a time of crisis, we can still come together to enjoy art (even if it’s six feet apart or virtually). At the end of the day, we are all in this together.
Emma Leynse is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]