By Jada Butler
“Peter/Piper” is a production hitting the stage for the first time with the Post Theater Company (PTC). The play, written by Trista Baldwin, a playwright and co-founder of Workhaus Playwrights’ Collective, tells the story of two sisters, Piper and Claire, who face a family tragedy and experience grief down two very different paths.
The story shows how people move on after tragedy and how we, as a society, can do better grieving or allowing space for people to not be okay.
Piper and Claire are just starting their lives; one is a college student and one just got engaged. Then tragedy strikes their family. Their lives are altered and they both react in different ways. Piper tries to escape through work, sex, and drinking. Claire tries to hold on too hard to the past.
Beth Lambert, a sophomore musical theatre major, plays Piper, who runs away to start over in NYC. “I connect with Piper about the need to constantly keep looking for more and more,” Lambert said. “She starts off with the life she wants and is comfortable, but you get one thing and you just want to take it further. She’s looking for a new story, love and life.”
“Peter/Piper” was originally commissioned by the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minn. Baldwin was asked to write the play for the theater’s class of 2014 B.F.A. actor training program. The original script was shorter. At Post, Baldwin has the liberty to extend the length of the show. This draft of the play is the first to be performed.
Baldwin is still making a few changes, either removing or adding scenes as the rehearsal process moves on. Yet the cast members do not let that phase their performances. The cast members are versatile to any changes that come their way, taking their direction well and committing to the truth of the characters they are portraying. “It is very fun to be hearing the changes in rehearsal right after I wrote them,” Baldwin said.
Lambert said that working with the playwright is a good challenge. “I never did a new work where you are constantly getting new lines and new pages. It’s fun to explore the nooks and crannies that may have not been in the previous copy. It’s a lot of working on your feet and being ready for anything,” she said.
Lucy Sanci, a sophomore musical theatre major, plays Claire, who returns home and tries to relive past experiences.
“Claire is very independent, but still loves her friends and family,” Sanci said. When the tragedy hit her family, Claire wants to understand every angle of it and why it happened. “It’s her way of controlling the situation,” she said. Sanci connects to Claire’s character. “I’d do anything for my family and [want to be] able to support them,” she said.
Sanci also enjoys working alongside Baldwin in the rehearsal process. “It’s an amazing experience, especially so early on in my career, getting to work with Trista as the play is developed,” she said. Sanci and her castmates have the opportunity to lend a hand in the progress of the show, rather than working with a predetermined set of characters. “You get to have a say with what the character is like,” she said.
Though it is not a musical, choreography is a huge factor in “Peter/Piper.” The cast uses contemporary dance and movement as well as poetic language to tell a story. The movement, according to Baldwin, creates an experience of the surreal state of mind post state-of-shock, which represents the narrative. “It’s more of an experiential play, rather than a linear narrative,” Baldwin said. The movement is not explicit, as the cast are responding to the script. “There is a physical language in addition to the verbal language,” she said.
“For Claire, the movement is a form of categorizing stuff,” Sanci said. “[Her movement] is very specific, she’s searching for something. She’s really trying to find an answer and put things in list.” Claire wants to feel what it is like to be present in the moment and is “grounding herself in her reality when everything can feel so up in the air,” Sanci said.
The play is inspired by Baldwin’s own personal experiences with loss, and friends’ experiences with loss. She looked at society and how it deals with loss, especially of young people. “I was given three days off work when a family member died,” Baldwin said. “Everything was all processed and afterwards everyone was like, ‘Yeah okay, move on,’ and that’s not how tragedy works.”
Baldwin was glad for the play to be performed by an ensemble, where some lines are spoken in unison, and the scenes are primarily interactive to better represent the dynamics within a society. This is different from the classic, spotlight monologues or two person scenes usually in plays. There are scenes playing out in the background of the narrative, creating a sense of community and togetherness.
“Trista’s done an excellent job in delving into the psychology of how people grieve,” Sanci said. “People from all walks of life can deal with the same circumstance. Though we feel alone, we don’t grieve alone. We are experiencing it together.”
Baldwin’s second inspiration came from the lack of roles for young women in plays. As a professor of playwriting, screenwriting, and dramatic literature at St. Cloud University, she witnessed the inequality. “I watched men and women audition and always noticed that the men look better, as the material is better suited for them,” she said.
The three males in the eight person cast all interact with the grief, as well as the women. The story, Baldwin says, shows how grief impacts the community, not just the sisters.
Lambert is happy to be working with a smaller cast. “We have grown a lot closer and have put our all into this. It’s great to work with people who are really dedicated,” she said.
Mia Rovegno, a Brooklyn-based director, playwright and puppeteer, was hired by PTC to direct the play. While Baldwin is on set to make a few changes to the script, Rovegno also contributes by helping the cast members figure out their movements.
“Mia does a great job working with us, not at us,” Sanci said. “Working with an all-female creative team is an amazing experience,” she added.
“Peter/Piper” will be performed on Feb. 16, 17, 23, and 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 18 and 25 at 3 p.m. in the LIU Post Riffle Range Theatre. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students who show valid ID. Tickets are available online at www.tix55.com/ptc700, or by calling the box office at 516-299-2356.