Westfield High School
Perhaps mankind is interconnected by a mysterious force, an unspoken language that binds us all. Imagine a train station: bustling herds scramble from shuttle to shuttle, their frenzied squabbles echo through the cavernous abyss. While the phenomenon may be dismissed as nothing more than an endless network of dreary tunnels, Thomas A. Edison High School's abstract performance of Emotional Baggage searches for a deeper meaning.
Illustrated entirely through non-verbal storytelling, Emotional Baggage, a one-act play written by Lindsay Price, tells the story of seven strangers from various walks of life who meet in a train station; rather than traditional luggage, they each carry their own "emotional baggage." From a hopeless janitor confined to her dead-end job to an ex-Hollywood star longing for her return to the spotlight, the audience is introduced to a variety of pertinent plights through the integration of pantomime and various technical elements.
Intrigued by the idea of performing a show without spoken dialogue, the cast and crew opted to film an in-person performance which followed COVID-19 guidelines. To overcome the limitations of the pandemic, the actors utilized transparent masks that helped the audience see their facial expressions. While the plot was somewhat discontinuous, the cast's dynamic spirit and commitment to conveying their characters' narratives helped to shed light on the complicated story.
As soon as she stepped onstage, Isabelle Anderson (playing Living in the Past) commanded the spotlight (literally). Paired with the precise timing of lighting cues and sound effects, Anderson exhibited over-the-top energy to match her character's unrestrained flamboyance. Later in the show, Porter Bertman (in Overbearing Mother) embodied his character's hesitant nature as he explored life beyond his overbearing mother. To tie each story together, Jada Paul's range of physical expressions demonstrated the freedom of letting go in her role as Well Rounded: letting go of the past, letting go of expectations, and letting go of false realities. For much of the performance, Paul's empathic presence brought life to the stage.
The students from Thomas Edison implemented many technical elements throughout the show. By utilizing an on-stage PowerPoint, stage manager/technical director Aiden Yancy took an innovative approach to clarify the intricacies of the plot; the slideshow doubled as both a set piece and a way to establish characterizations. While certain elements were slightly domineering at times, Cesar Canales used his compositional abilities to fill the void of oral storytelling. The simplistic set design ensured that no attention was diverted away from the story itself, and by assigning each character their own comfort item, props helped distinguish each persona. In one defining moment, a ukulele case unified the characters; supported by the use of a spotlight, sound, and the cast's synchronization, the audience observed how one prop fused seven worlds into one. Although the recording was unable to fully encapsulate the essence of the show, the pair's technical choices reflected and reinforced the abstract nature of the performance.
As a child clings to its security blanket, we too find ourselves gravitating towards familiarity. For the seven life-lost misfits at the train station, realities converged and suddenly there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Thomas A. Edison High School's unconventional performance of Emotional Baggage reminds us that regardless of where we have been and where we are going, we all carry emotional baggage.
Lake Braddock Secondary School
Think of all the theatre greats: Shakespeare, Chekov, Ibsen. If there's one thing those playwrights relied on to create the literary masterpieces loved and extensively studied today, it was the element of dialogue. When that is taken away, what is left? The answer lies in Lindsay Price's "Emotional Baggage", an exuberant play recently produced by Thomas Edison High School, which is composed solely of physical motion.
This one-act was originally published in 2013 by Lindsay Price. As it is a play that challenges actors to portray a story without dialogue, it is very popular among theatre classes and professional companies alike as a way to stretch the abilities of the players. In this COVID-19 cautious era, it was nice to see Edison produce this on a physical stage with the trademark clear masks so often seen in theatre these days.
It would be remiss to begin this critique without first praising the ensemble of this show. Due to the lack of spoken word, the entire ensemble had to work together flawlessly in order to move the show along and pull the audience's focus to one plot point or another. They did this through a series of exaggerated pantomime and exciting stage tableaus which, along with the lighting, drew focus excellently. With each ensemble member working hand in hand, it was easy to see that hours of dedication were put into this performance in order to make it cohesive, working even like clockwork.
Although each role was generally equal in stage time, there were a couple of standout actors who really leaned into the physical aspect of the play and provided an exciting, insightful performance. One such actress was Isabelle Anderson, who played a character with the struggle of "Living in the Past". She perfectly encapsulated the false confidence and thinly veiled fear of someone desperately holding onto their halcyon days, quite literally trying to run back into the spotlight with a desperation characteristic of someone who doesn't want the party to be over just yet. Another notable actress was Corina Briscoe, who portrayed a character who struggled with "Can’t Get Over 1st Love". From the moment she stepped on stage, it was clear that she was lovestruck through and through, making the audience feel for her as the object of her love walked away, leaving her broken and desolate. Her performance was truly relatable and might have even stung a little bit for watchers familiar with the emotion.
Edison took full advantage of the theatre's resources in this production- after performances being forced to take place behind Zoom screens with little space for technical prowess, who could blame them for going all out? One of the most emphasized aspects of tech in "Emotional Baggage" was the lighting, designed by stage manager Aiden Yancy. Yancy's design utilized the spotlights extensively in a variety of colors which adhered to the theme of the scene. For instance, during Briscoe's lovestruck moments, the spots on her were a lovely pink. The spots were truly one of the biggest stars of the show, whether they were swinging around to evade Anderson's character or pulling focus to the center of the stage to a lonely ukulele case. Another integral piece of tech was the enthusiastic music that underscored the entire performance, composed and produced by Cesar Canales. It was sometimes mixed with train ambience to reflect the setting of the play, which was a nice touch.
Thomas Edison's production of Lindsay Price's "Emotional Baggage" was an insightful look into the struggles that we deal with all the time, seen or unseen.