On April 2, students flocked to Zoom to engage in something they haven’t been able to do for a while: watch a play together. Over 77 people attended the reading of senior Theatre Studies major Audrey Lang’s new play Rye Bread, presented by Theatrists Theatrics. The play follows 18-year-old Rye through a painfully boring summer internship at their older cousin Tessa’s office. Having failed economics, they must complete this internship to officially graduate high school. While their mothers Rachel and Kate do their best to be understanding, the debate over what to do with their sassy yet introspective child brings up old tensions that reveal that family life is not always as perfect as we try to make it seem.
It was clear that the audience did not quite know what to expect from a Zoom performance, but the production crew took immediate, effective steps to create something resembling normalcy. Even just hearing someone welcome you to the “theater” and present you with a link to a program felt like slipping back into an old routine. Director Michael Tricca and the actors found ways to embrace the unusual circumstances. The company turned their videos on and off to simulate entrances and exits, and used objects at their disposal for props, even pretending to pass a pitcher of lemonade from screen to screen. Stage directions were read aloud, with the reader’s video displaying a photo of the setting.
Lang curates intensely realistic situations in her writing. Amid her poignant observations and metaphors, she does not lose the beauty of everyday language, from debates over who gets the extra tomatoes from the salad, to who’s responsible for getting rid of the rats in the office to the decadence of pre-dinner ice cream. Rye Bread reminds you that real life is just as complex as the fantastical, a stark reminder in these uncertain times.
In a post-show talkback, the playwright explained that she has always been interested in the dynamics of queer families and “the not-so-nice things we sometimes say to each other.” Indeed Rye Bread provides an intimate portrait of queer characters, and in a refreshing change of pace, their queerness is never presented as a conflict. Rachel and Kate are welcomed by their extended family at all times, there’s never any discussion of trauma and even the snarky Tessa refrains from insults based on sexuality. In a theatre landscape that tends to focus on coming out narratives and the ensuing abuse, we can only hope that more plays follow in Rye Bread’s footsteps and focus on everyday simplicity and joy in the lives of queer people.
The play is also curious about the power of names, which can often be a facet of the queer experience. Rye bitterly reminds the people in their life that their name is no longer Rylee, while stubbornly refusing to call their co-intern Daniel by his preferred name, Dan. When referred to as “Mom,” Kate is a doting, indulgent parent, but when her short temper and sense of superiority take hold, her family bitingly reduces her to “Dr. Kate.” We can curate our names to an extent, we can select what sides of our personalities we want to show the world, but we can’t always control how other people see us.
At the emotional core of the piece is the sweet sincerity of the love between these characters. From Kate’s nickname for her child who gives the play its name, to the tenderness Rachel shows in her more quiet moments, it is clear that even when they act impulsively, they are still family. Maybe Rye will never excel at economics, and Dr. Kate will always be a bit full of herself, and Tessa will always be stuck up, and Rachel will always be a bit brash, but what ties them together will always be love. It’s a lesson we can all take to heart at a time when we may be in very close quarters with our immediate families. Love is messy, and Rye Bread reminds us that there is beauty to be found in the mess.
Congratulations to the cast and crew!
CAST & CREATIVE TEAM:
Director: Michael Tricca
Dramaturg: Kaylah Marr
Rye: Naandi Jamison
Dr. Kate: Stella Pruitt
Rachel: Megan Lynn Schmidt
Tessa: Kimmi Neuschulz
Dan: Rhys Washington
Nick Kyrgios: Jordan Sledd
Stage Directions: Morgan Kingsley
Art by Adam Dee.