Last Sunday, Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance presented a play reading of I Now Pronounce, written by Tasha Gordon-Solomon and directed by Benjamin Shaw ‘07. This play explores the classic wedding scene, with archetypes such as the drunk bridesmaid, the anti-love groomsmen, and the bridezilla. The play starts, however, with a twist sending the wedding into spiralling antics: the officiating rabbi dies mid-ceremony. The reading featured Muhlenberg students Alex Benary ‘19, Lucie Hopkins ‘21, Julian Mone ‘19, Sarah Jae Leiber ‘19, Brianna Price ‘22, Rylee Singer ‘22, Jonathan Slovak ‘22, Gwen Wilkie ‘20, and Emily Searles ‘19 as stage manager.
Many of the actors played characters with more diverse age ranges than just college students. Hopkins, Benary, and Price all played flower girls along with their adult characters, and Wilkie played both the 90-year old rabbi and his wife. The flower girls brought a sense of childhood wonder to the show, even though they were being played by ‘Berg students. Their reactions to the crazy events provided a comical and light reaction to the wedding, something that anyone in the audience could enjoy. Then the members of the wedding party brought more adult situations to the story, like the classic wedding hook-up and a stammered, drunken speech. The storyline was tightly written, with each scene flowing into the other in a way that connected the present events and backgrounds of each character. Each actor brought the script to life, providing animated, entertaining characters, even though the reading contained no props, costumes, or staging.
In discussion with Shaw about his return to Muhlenberg, he said, “It’s lovely, it feels a bit like a homecoming. It’s nice to come back and bring a part of myself professionally and share that with campus and theatre students.” Shaw was last on campus directing Seussical for Summer Musical Theatre in 2013.
Shaw describes the positives of students working with those currently in the theatre industry, saying, “It keeps your perspective broad and expansive, on the one hand, so much of what our professional experience is the result of relationships. Being able to plant relationships and give students experiences that replicate what’s happening in the real world, that’s important to me.”
Students worked with Shaw for the first time the morning before the performance and had nothing but praise for the actors. “They were great! They were really quick on their feet, very funny, enthusiastic and very game. Being game is the most important quality.”
Meeting with the playwright after the production, she gave some insight to the inspiration behind the script. Gordon-Solomon said, “There’s a stage in your life where you go to a lot of weddings. And I’m always interested in taking traditional tropes or plays or stories we hear specifically about women, and turn them on their head a bit from a feminist comedic angle.” She also acknowledged Muhlenberg’s students taking on the various characters, explaining that, “Every time you hear new actors read it they bring something different to it, which I think is really exciting, because when you are writing a play you’re writing a template, and actors bring themselves to it. It’s always cool to hear the new choices. I think the wonderful thing about theatre is how transformative it can be. It’s really exciting to see a college student transform into someone in their eighties.”
Gordon-Solomon also had advice for aspiring playwrights at Muhlenberg as well.
“Read a lot of plays.” She states, “Someone once told me that there’s an easy way to become a good writer and that’s reading a lot. Keep writing, the more you do it, the better you get. This play had a lot of drafts, the first draft is never perfect. What you do at Muhlenberg is you get to work in different areas in theatre, try acting, try design, direct. Even if you know you want to be a writer, you become a better writer if you understand an actors process, you become a better writer if you can think about the design in the world of a play, it’s absorbing as much theatre as you can. Learn about the world, take other classes you want to have something to write about. See plays, read plays, write plays, write a lot of drafts, and live in the world.”