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Countdown Theatre tackles tough issues

By Katharine Grubb
March 2, 2017

Over the weekend I went to Sloan’s Countdown Theatre play “4th Graders Present: An Unnamed Love-Suicide,” which was student-directed by Rebecca Glincman, a sophomore English major. The show ran from Feb. 22 to Feb. 26 and admission was free, as is true for most LHU productions. The show dealt with some dark themes, which included suicide, severe bullying and depression. The playbill came with a trigger warning and the director came out before each show to give a verbal warning for any sensitive viewers. I went into the show with my guard up, mentally preparing myself for the inevitable unhappy ending, but the triggering content the audience had been worried about was seriously lacking until the second act. I had trouble believing that the characters the students portrayed were in fourth grade, not because they seemed older, but surprisingly because they seemed much younger. I asked Kyle Grady, a sophomore majoring in Computer Science who played Johnny, if he had trouble relating to his character because of their age difference. “Not totally, I’m the only person in this cast that talks in a kid voice, so… I mean, talking constantly in a kid voice… I’m almost certain that I talk in a kid voice when I shouldn’t be talking in a kid voice, because I do it so much. I kind of just thought back to when I was in grade school to get into character.”

The idea that fourth graders had been exposed to depression and suicide was also a little difficult for me to grasp, but after a bit of research I found an article in Time Magazine stating that 40% of kids who try to commit suicide begin in elementary school. This was shocking to discover, mostly because suicide is often a serious and depressing matter that most people categorize as “adult content”. Some of the characters in the play seemed to be more knowledgeable on topics such as depression than one would think at such a young age, and I addressed this with Grace Monroe, an English Secondary Education sophomore, who played Rachel. “I definitely think my character had kind of a loss of innocence, and I think that was really evident in how she acted. She realized that the world around her wasn’t what she thought it was and she saw the evil in everything.”

The show started harmlessly enough, with the kids pledging to the flag and Morgan Beatty opening the act with a cute song accompanied by her ukulele. Kyle Grady and Grace Monroe were Johnny and Rachel, two fourth-graders who seemed to be in a complicated relationship (which is questionable at such a young age.) When asked if he had to mentally prepare himself for the dark content his character was exposed to, he affirmed that he did. “Rebecca and Mary Beth want you to channel something that is kind of upsetting and kind of revisit a time that you had to be emotionally invested in, and I’ve had a lot of recent events that have created instances that I can get emotionally invested in.” While Monroe did an excellent job playing such an interesting character, the audience might’ve had a hard time believing that Rachel was actually fat, a fact that seem to be the partial center of all the bullying that she experienced, because Monroe is, in no stretch of the word, fat.

Katie Fitzgerald and Aaron Scott played Sally and Mike Rice, the classic bully duo, and they seemed almost suspiciously connected to their roles, to the point where I couldn’t see them as anything but. It was true evidence of a job well done. Mike Rice spends the play terrorizing the other kids by physically beating Johnny up and cutting off Rachel’s beautiful braids. To make matters worse, Sally and her best friend Brenda, played by Maxi Estrada, force Rachel to eat cookies, while Johnny watches helplessly. Katie Fitzgerald said that even though she struggled in the beginning to develop her character, she had no problem in the end. “It was a little difficult at first, but I’ve been in roles before where I was rude and nasty towards people so I sort of channeled that. They [the cast] all know that I’m not like that, so I could expand and go all out.”

The show is full of the kind of kid-like bullying students see in the hallways during fourth grade. The only thing that was completely uncharacteristic of normal fourth grader behavior was that at the end of the show, almost everyone had been murdered, or committed suicide. “It was kind of like watching something go downhill, even though you don’t realize what’s happening,” said Fitzgerald. The only survivor at the end of the show was the hall monitor, Lucy Law, played by Alex Drake, the lucky person whose character was the one to come across the pile of dead bodies. On opening night, the audience was completely frozen after the final scene, and while this may have seemed discouraging, it was a compliment to the actors and director.  

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