Approaching Memory, Female Companionship, & Grief in Somalia Seaton’s Red

     Where on Earth did I put my wallet? Or my phone? Or my coffee mug? It was sitting right next to my notebook on the corner of my desk–I can envision it now–Oh wait, I took it out of my bag, I mean coat pocket, I mean it sat on the kitchen table! I mean….
We’ve all been there. Relying on our memory, racking and rallying our brains, to provide every last detail of evidence in order to recover something missing. We trust and commit to our memory, a proven to be malleable and at times unreliable function of our grey matter. But what if, during the most pressing loss–the loss of a best friend–memory is all we have? In Somalia Seaton’s Red, this theme of memory, and the whirling fluidity between past and present that comes with grieving a lost loved one, is examined. In this play, Dee’s best friend Jay goes missing, leaving Dee and her other friends struggling to solve and search for their dear companion. Below, actresses Miranda LaFond (Class of 2020) and Allison O’Leary (Class of 2022) and the play’s director Donovan Olsen (Class of 2019) respond to their approach about the play’s form and its depiction of memory, female companionship, and grief.
What is the impact of a chorus and storytelling in Red–a play that revolves around the reliability of memory?
MIRANDA: As a member of the chorus, it has been my job to trace how our group functions as storytellers in Red. I’ll admit my mind instantly snapped to ‘Greek Chorus’ when I first read through the script. Whereas in the ancient tradition chorus forms a type of all-seeing communal morality, the chorus in Red is much more involved with both the action and characters. We’ve interpreted ourselves as different facets of the main character Dee’s mind—her doubt, insecurity, curiosity, fear, capacity for love—and in doing so have become advocates and guides on this trip through her memories.
DONOVAN: The chorus act in many capacities, but they are first and foremost extensions of Dee’s mind. They are both working alongside her and providing commentary from the sidelines as she pieces together bits of memories. While Dee is the one controlling which memories we see, the chorus (who, in the words of Somalia Seaton, “know more than us and more than the other characters in the play”) help to frame the way the audience perceives both the memories themselves and Dee’s process of understanding.
How does the play reflect the reliability of memory?
DONOVAN: Without giving too much away, the course of the play is an attempt to reconstruct and make sense of memory. After Jay leaves, Dee spends hours upon hours replaying and piecing together key memories. The idea of failed or incomplete memory is never far from mind.
MIRANDA: The script of Red is sort of disjointed—scenes or snippets of text repeat and reappear slightly out of order. You get the sense that things aren’t occurring chronologically, and this is meant to mirror how we are ourselves unreliable narrators. Memories, especially those tangled with guilt or grief, come back to us in unexpected ways. Something you might have said without a second thought in the moment takes on incredible weight when re-examining it after the fact.
Do you think female companionship is a theme in Red? If so, what is the importance of displaying female companionship in a show about loss?
DONOVAN: Female friendship is absolutely a central theme of Red; that was actually a big part of why I chose to direct this play. There aren’t a lot of plays out there that place young girls at the center of everything, let alone that do it in a validating and empowering way. The fact that the main characters are all young girls, around 15, and that they are each other’s most-trusted support system is deeply reflective of the kinds of friendships I grew up around
ALLISON: One thing I have loved about Donovan’s directing is how familiar they are with the intensity and joy of close female friendships. When I first read the script I was struck by how deep Dee’s grief ran in the aftermath of her friend’s disappearance. Her loss is all-encompassing and world-stopping; her connection with Jay was deeply important to her life and identity. In a play about loss, the immense strength of female companionship cannot be understated or ignored.
MIRANDA: Our director mentioned early in the rehearsal process that grief experienced in adolescence often manifest in self-blame and isolation. The group of female friends in Red has experienced the collective loss of Jay, yet Dee is the only character through which we get to see the grieving process. She cuts herself off from the others by way of a tent from which she refuses to emerge, and this theme of keeping those closest to us shut out from our deepest pain is something which haunts the female friendships in this show. Jay’s detachment as well as Dee’s isolation reveals women standing at the cusp of something huge, trying to reconcile childhood with what comes next. They are fifteen-year-olds juggling grief and puberty and school and this brave new world of consequences. The truly heart-wrenching thing about Red is that the young women in question loses someone just as they’re trying desperately to find themselves.
What has the rehearsal process been like as far as approaching heavy material and playing roles that differ from yourselves? 
DONOVAN: I was nervous when I first learned I was directing Red, because it is so thematically heavy— I didn’t want the process to be draining for the actors, or for myself. Throughout our process I’ve tried to center other elements of the play (relationships, memory versus reality, the nature and impact of the chorus) and discuss the themes of loss and grief as they are pertinent to the scene at hand. While the material is heavy and I want us to be respectful and responsible about that, I didn’t want those themes to control the rehearsal room. The first day of rehearsal, we constructed a blanket fort together and read the play there, so that we could assign our own meaning to the idea of the tent, which gains a lot of symbolic and emotional weight over the course of the show.
ALLISON: The play is heartbreaking and really stays with you – I think about the story all the time. Grief is a difficult thing to play because we try so hard to avoid it in real life. However, our cast is made up of genuinely funny and warm people and Donovan’s positive energy is a force. Although we deal with heavy material in the show, our rehearsal process has been filled with laughter and I always leave happier than I came.
MIRANDA: The most difficult part of working with this script has been attempting to access the fifteen-year-old part of my brain. Not trying to paint with too broad a brush here but I think I can safely say that for many of us the first year of high school was a transitional and sometimes painful time. It’s been difficult to go back to an emotional state I like to think I’ve graduated from, but as an actor it can be dangerous to draw too directly from life. One must balance their own memory with that of the character.
Any breakthrough or “a-ha!” moments that have occurred during the rehearsal process? 
MIRANDA: One of the lines spoken by the chorus resonated with me during the first read-through: “Can you ever really know someone?” It’s that unknowability which has informed my approach to the text since. Contrary to the structure of Red which gives us a window into another’s mind, we can never know what’s going on in a head and heart that isn’t our own. The best we can do is listen with compassion.
DONOVAN: So many… I first read Red in October of 2017 and was immediately struck by the ambiguity of much of the text itself. As I reread it over the course of the last year, I had so many more questions than answers— especially about the meaning of certain lines. It all seemed so malleable, and as a result I started assigning meaning to sections of text that were arbitrary and subjective. Once we got into the rehearsal room, and my cast had spent winter break with the script, there were so many interpretations that I hadn’t fully considered. Even my sense of the show’s timeline- something left entirely up to interpretation- has changed immensely through the process as the cast has brought in their own readings and interpretations.
Red will be running February 20th – 22nd @ 8 PM and February 23rd @ 2 PM on the Alexander Stage in Harper Joy Theater. Grab your tickets at the Box Office M-F from 12PM-4PM, or grab them online HERE.