By Emily Byrne
“My image should be judged by your care.”
These words, hesitantly recited by the young bride George (Sophia Paulino ’22, Serena Lehman ’19 and Cianna Stovall ’22), seem nothing sort of a romantic declaration of love, but in this theatrical world, the lines between the passions of the heart and the passions of war turn blurry. Devotees in the Garden of Love, written by Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Grant Landau-Williams ’19, creates an image of, in Landau-Williams’s own words, “how the world works and how the patriarchy has twisted things.” Parks wrote the show intending to challenge the notion of a woman’s place in the world, doing so through the juxtaposition of a war with a home. The show allows each audience member to take a journey and discover what exactly this means for theirself—an allowance that Landau-Williams felt was critical for not only his audience, but also for his actors.
Throughout the play, which takes place mainly in what seems to be a living room, mama Lily (Bri Watts ’20, Ana Shoemate ’21, and Finley Martin ’19) and her daughter George prepare for George’s impending marriage. On a battlefield below their home, a tremendous war rages, and soldiers vie for the hand of George, who is constantly referred to as the “beautiful, sought-after bride.” While George awaits her suitor, her mother reminisces on having taught her how to do activities such as “lay a table, greet, a guest, have good posture, and [arrive] fashionably late” from the time her daughter was a young girl. Madame Odelia Pandahr, (Marina Kalaw ’22, Yael Schoenbaum ’21, and Megan Muratore ’19), the head of the finishing school George attended, often speaks at the same time as George, reenforcing the importance of these duties that George has been expected to master from a young age. These discussions between mama Lily and George, as well as the overlapping dialogue of George and Madame Odelia, suggest that perhaps it’s not only the patriarchy’s fault for enforcing these traditional gender roles, but also women’s fault for accepting and passing them down, an idea further demonstrated through mama Lily’s repetition throughout the show of the phrase: “in my day.”
Landau-Williams takes a very minimalistic approach with the design, relying on what exists surrounding the stage to create the setting, while still maximizing every inch of the space. The Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater and the Zankel Music Center each stand on either side of the amphitheater stage, serving as two giant hills and creating the image of a valley. Actors with colorful pieces of fabric move around on the grass behind the stage, pretending to be in combat on the battlefield. This gives the impression of a battlefield close enough for the women to see, yet far off enough that mama Lily has to use her “bo-nocks” (binoculars) to watch the fighting. The actors wear their own everyday, solid-colored clothing for their costumes, with the only extra costume pieces being a apron-like skirt and a fancy hat. The only lighting used is the big light that is already a part of the amphitheater and a string of Christmas lights along the ground meant to represent a catwalk. The minimalism successfully shifts the audience’s focus from the spectacle of the show to the actual dialogue and what is being said.
Considering recent events and the current media, the messages from Devotees in the Garden of Love prove incredibly resonant, making for a powerful production. The actors’ performances and Landau-Williams’s direction clearly came from a place of deep understanding and personal connection to the story.
Written By: Suzan-Lori Parks
Director: Grant Landau-Williams ’19
Stage Manager: Becca Schilsky ’20
Cast: Marina Kalaw ’22, Serena Lehman ’19, Finley Martin ’19, Megan Muratore ’19, Sophia Paulino ’22, Yael Schoenbaum ’21, Ana Shoemate ’21, Cianna Stovall ’22, Bri Watts ’20
Emily Byrne ’22 is a staff writer for the Living Newsletter