by Delaney Russell
Behind the satin robes, personal chefs, and jacuzzis, we have all wondered what the iconic Playboy Mansion is like. Kallan Dana ’19, writer and director of Playdate, took a thoughtful stab at accessing the lives of the individuals that make up this unified sex symbol of a home. She manages to meld the material with the political and reminds us that the seemingly superficial often can grant us the most genuine glimpse at the depths of the human condition. What separates us from a Playboy Bunny or Hugh Hefner? Maybe, despite our desire to distance ourselves from these archetypes of eroticism and impulse, not much.
In the opening scene, the cast drowns the stage in fuzzy blankets, topped with two inflatable pink chairs. It looks like a preteen sleepover, with girls in bathrobes and pajama pants lounging and giggling amongst themselves. These girls, we soon learn, are actually demonic Playboy Bunnies, played by Cianna Stovall ’22, Emma Goodman ’21, Hanna Nyberg ’22, Kat Collin ’21, and Marin Asnes ”21. As Hefner’s shirtless sons, Cooper Hefner (Eli Hersh ’20) and Marston Hefner (Henry Thomas ’20) and Hugh himself (Adam Newmark ’20) enter the scene, it seems that the characters have outgrown their surroundings in an instant. A lingering question that Dana takes up in this play, and perhaps one of the most probing the audience is left to consider, is what the difference is between a man and a woman who both want to stay young forever.
Dana’s writing is rich from start to finish. She infuses the script with direct quotes from the mouth of Hefner himself and thoughtfully fills in the gaps with complicated yet effortlessly accessible interactions. A dense network is woven across the stage between platonic and sexual partners, alive and dead. Not one character is left exotic or unfamiliar. Before you know it, you can see yourself, your ex, and your brother on stage, fumbling their way through identity, sexuality, and an embarrassing amount of codependency. When Kristina Shannon (Gemma Siegler ’22) pushes against her categorization as a stupid girl, or when her twin sister Karissa (Zoe Lesser ’19) craves solitude in juvenile outbursts, the self inevitably shines through. At the end of the day, Dana teaches us that while it may come across as larger-than-life, the characters before us are just trying to figure out what type of connection they need to survive and how to get it. The way they go about this is unmistakably gendered, and cleverly gets at the route of how power dynamics emerge between people.
The staging stands up to the dialogue, packed with witty, disarming physicality, mainly executed by the Playboy Bunnies. Bianca Thompson ’19’s choreography packs a punch, marked by sharp movements and oozing with sexualized sarcasm. In one scene, they take turns spraying whipped cream into their mouths, smiling eerily into the audience, and forcing us to reckon with who we grant power to, and under what circumstances. While the Shannon twins spend the duration of the play finding their voices, the demonic Bunnies are most daring and alive. Their male counterparts compete for the most convincing narrative of confidence, all ultimately failing and succumbing to their own insecurities.
Each actor’s performance was filled with vibrancy and clear intent to draw out the weighty significance of each moment. Most notably, the cast delivered a story that is both frighteningly uncanny and undeniably fun. The product was both gripping and rollicking, right down to Hefner’s final breath.
Written and directed by: Kallan Dana ’19
Stage Managed by: Emily Forer ’20
Lighting Design: Ethan Embry ’19
Sound Design: Graham Cook ’19
Choreography/Fight: Bianca Thompson ’19
Makeup and Design: Megan Muratore ’19
“Playboy Mansion” Sign Design by Sarah Markley ’19
Cast: Adam Newmark ’20, Annie Cox ’21, Cianna Stovall ’22, Eli Hersh ’20, Emma Goodman ’21, Gemma Siegler ’22, Hanna Nyberg ’22, Henry Thomas ’20, Kat Collin ’21, Marin Asnes ’21, Zoe Lesser ’19
Delaney Russel is a senior staff writer for the Skidmore Theater Living Newsletter.