Student playwright explores life, loss and love in short plays

Naomi McGowan (left) and Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert (right) acted in An Emesis Bag Full of Butterflies. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

After multiple rewrites and edits, second-year St. Thomas University English and creative writing student Lola Toner presented three of her short plays on Oct. 25.

Toner said the scripts she wrote are totally different from when she started writing them. She said the biggest change was the character’s dialogue. The purpose of the event was, in the playwright’s words, for “pedagogical workshopping,” meaning it provided her with an educational workshop that would help her plays develop.

“I just approached the English-drama department and I submitted my shows for review and Robin Whittaker said a workshop and a stage reading would be really beneficial,” said Toner.

“Life, Loss, Love: An Evening of Staged Readings” was performed in the Ted Daigle Auditorium.

“The focus [of the play] is more the cyclical nature of life, you know the patterns that lie within it and the experience we have,” said Toner.

In the first play, Life and the Maiden, Brian Perez (Dustyn Forbes, right) is set to be collected by Death (Georgia MacNaughton, right). (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

“They all had the three themes [life, loss and love] in them, because you know it’s about the universality of human experience and so it’s kind of hard to avoid like falling in love and death and having friends.”

Toner, the general organizer as well as the playwright, had help from a team of directors who worked on the production with her.

“Casting and staging was almost entirely up to the directors. I had very little to do with any of that and I owe Georgia [MacNaughton], Louis Anthony and Gabrielle [Fournier] my sincerest thanks for their insight,” Toner said in email.

The first play, Life and the Maiden, is “about a young man’s encounter with the grim reaper and the unexpected friendship that blossoms between them,” Toner said.

Louis Bryan directed and performed in Widows of Lavender Way. He also performed in Life and the Maiden. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

The story follows a 22-year-old smoker named Brian Perez (Dustyn Forbes), who is set to be collected by a character who acts out Death herself (Georgia MacNaughton). Instead of panicking at the thought of death, Perez rejoices, which confuses Death. Perez doesn’t seem to care about his own fate and Death is taken aback – not used to dealing with this kind of reaction. Despite their differences, they slowly bond and form a friendship.

The second play, Widows of Lavender Way, is about a musician named Gilbert (Peter Boyce) who wakes up in a form of afterlife and has a conversation with a deceased woman named Lucinda (Gabrielle Fournier), who attempts to compel him to return to the living world and keep playing his music.

The third play, An Emesis Bag Full of Butterflies, is about love.

The performances were all staged readings. (left: Megan Elton, right: Peter Boyce) (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

Staged in a hospital waiting room, two anxiety-ridden characters named Helen (Naomi McGowan) and Anthony (Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert) are waiting for the same doctor, during which they converse together and slowly fall in love.

“[They] realize that they might be the cure to each other’s ailments,” Toner said.

The serious topics were all combined with comedic and romantic elements.

Cast member and fourth-year student Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert enjoyed acting in the play.

“It was a very cute piece of writing it was a lot of fun to work on … it felt really good whenever you hear the audience go ‘awh’ or whenever you get a laugh out of them,” he said.

“It really was all in the writing, really smart dialogue and it led itself to a lot of opportunities for me and Naomi [my co-actor] to exploit.”

Peter Boyce performed in Widows of Lavender Way as Gilbert. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

In all three plays, the chemistry between the main characters onstage was both natural and passionate. The actors, with little to no movement, kept the attention of the audience throughout the play, with soft music that blended in beautifully with the actor’s melancholic and mesmerizing voices.

Every act had a narrator who contributed to synchronizing the different scenes in the play. The auditorium’s lighting was dimmed enough to reflect the often somber mood of the characters, who were each wearing fitting costumes for their character.

Gutiérrez-Robert said he has seen few 20 year olds write a play on the taboo subject of death and the afterlife in such a graceful and eloquent manner.

There were a total of eight actors in Toner’s three plays. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

“Lola, in particular, displayed a level of maturity in writing … that allows itself to be a little easier to read and a little easier to follow. It’s really the fact that it was funny and wasn’t depressing and she was able to talk about very serious issues without it being super dreary and dark,” said Gutiérrez-Robert.

The audience participated in a talkback section that followed. People provided suggestions to Toner on how she could improve the plays.

The third was the audience’s favourite. Toner said that play in particular was more personal.

“I walked away thinking that I should write more personal pieces,” she said.