This 2016 play, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, marked an impressive dramaturgical debut by writer Sarah DeLappe, who used her youthful experience on a girls’ soccer team to create a microcosm of female adolescence. In the playwright’s words, the work is “a portrait of teenage girls as human beings” that, in the Lyric staging, proved a stretching, kicking, jumping-jacking whole and the sum of its idiosyncratic parts. Taking the form of a series of chatty warm-ups by the titular team, neatly packed into the 90 minutes allotted a soccer match, the play features random, overlapping dialogue that pings around faster than even the most deftly propelled ball. But what is most striking about it, even if you don’t catch every word amid the shifting alliances and butt kicks, is that it takes its nine strong, budding personalities seriously even as it lays out the near-comic cacophony in their heads — fed by parents, politics, schoolwork, social media and a lifetime of shared pop-cultural references. A. Nora Long was at the helm of the fast-moving, high-prancing production set on an AstroTurf slope surrounded by protective netting. And the nine Wolves, most portrayed by recent graduates of respected actor-training programs, were convincing in both their ferocity as a huddled, howling pack and their vulnerabilities as individuals bravely groping toward adulthood.
Director Scott Edmiston assembled a superb cast – including Anne Gottlieb as manipulative Southern matron Regina, Remo Airaldi as her morally bankrupt brother Ben, and Amelia Broome as her kindhearted, heartbreaking sister-in-law Birdie – for a perfectly wrought production of the 1939 Lillian Hellman classic that is destined to be talked about for years to come.
The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, staged by Lyric Stage Company, Boston. Scott Edmiston directed this blemish-free production starring the sublime Anne Gottlieb as Regina Giddens, who, circa 1900, engages in psychological warfare to reclaim her share of the American dream. Hellman planned to write a trilogy about this pernicious Southern family, but completed only two entries. Her prequel, Another Part of the Forest, hasn’t been performed in Boston in years (read: decades). The Lyric Stage production of Foxes was a critical and financial success. Will someone conscript Edmiston (and cast) to stage the Hellman prequel in 2020?
The debate over so-called “trigger warnings” continues to simmer, boiling over in the media every month or so. These warnings – statements alerting students, and other members of the public, if writing, video or other materials contain confronting images or ideas – have taken center stage in the campus culture wars in the US and beyond.
Proponents argue that trigger warnings protect vulnerable and traumatized students from harm. Warnings allow students to prepare themselves mentally for distressing experiences or to avoid exposure to them if they feel unable to cope.
Critics see things differently. Where trigger warning proponents see protection they see coddling. Where proponents see sensitivity, they see censorship and threats to fearless pedagogy.
The Concept of ‘Triggers’
Rather than enter this political minefield, we might consider the concept of “trigger warning” itself and ask where it comes from. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a trigger can be something that acts like a mechanical trigger in initiating a process or reaction.
To trigger something is therefore not just to bring it about in some general sense, but to cause it in a way that is mechanical and automatic, like a reflex. Pollen is an asthma trigger because it sets off muscle contractions in the airways among people who are sensitive to it. The muscular reaction is involuntary and requires no conscious deliberation. It just happens.
The idea of trigger warnings originates in the psychiatric literature on post-traumatic reactions, where triggering had the same connotations. The primary features of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include so-called “re-experiencing symptoms,” like intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.
These thoughts and images bring traumatic events vividly back to life, accompanied by the intense fear that the events originally evoked. Experiences that recall those early events trigger re-experiencing symptoms through a process that is rapid, unconscious, involuntary and automatic.
When trigger warnings were first introduced, they adhered closely to this post-traumatic sense of the term. Warnings were intended to alert traumatized people, who had experienced rape and sexual or physical assault, that soon-to-be presented material might spark their traumatic memories. Trigger warnings now commonly alert people not only to content that relates to sexual or physical trauma, but also to material that is potentially offensive, disgusting or politically questionable.
For example, one recent proposal urged trigger warnings for vomit, spiders and insects, slimy things, food, eye contact, pregnancy, classism, racism and transphobia (including, presumably, critiques thereof). Lists such as these indicate that trigger warnings have expanded their conceptual territory to encompass almost anything that could be a focus of strong emotion or conflict.
That expansion is revealed by statements that trigger warnings relate to material that is “emotionally confronting” or “distressing” rather than narrowly traumatic. Indeed, much of the content now subject to trigger warnings has no direct association with trauma in the psychiatric sense.
The fact that a concept such as “trigger” has inflated far beyond its original meaning is not in itself a cause for concern. Concepts evolve all the time, and so they should. However, it is important to ask whether the expanding meaning of “trigger” has come at a cost.
Responding to Humpty Dumpty’s claim that a word “means just what I choose it to mean,” Alice [Through the Looking Glass] asked: “The question is … whether you can make words say so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty replied: “The question is … which is to be master,” he or the word.
Trigger warning advocates may be the masters when it comes to defining “triggers,” but they may be over-egging the definition.
The emotional signature of trauma is intense fear or horror. It is fear that dominates the reexperiencing symptoms of PTSD. However, the newer triggers often involve markedly different emotions: sadness or depression, social anxiety, disgust, or moral indignation at an offensive -ism. These diverse emotions can be rolled up with fear into an undifferentiated ball of “upset,” “distress” or feeling “confronted,” but crucial distinctions are overlooked in the process.
Traumatic fear, for example, is intense, evoked by reminders in a largely automatic manner, difficult to override and related to a personal catastrophic experience. Mercifully only a small minority of the population suffers from PTSD at any point in time; 3.8% over a six-month period according to one recent study.
In contrast, most people experience some disgust at slimy things and vomit, but rarely to a pathological degree and not necessarily as a result of a traumatic personal history. To group together “triggers” for sexual trauma and for everyday disgust is to mix apples and rotten oranges.
The angry offence that people may take to undesirable social attitudes and political ideologies is even more different from traumatic fear, and even more questionably described by the language of “triggering.” Outrage or indignation is not as automatic as traumatic fear, involving a more complex moral assessment of the situation.
The ire we experience when we take offence is not generated by an involuntary trigger-like mechanism but by a complex process of moral cognition.
The differences between traumatic fear and moral anger do not stop there. One motivates avoidance, the other motivates attack. People taking angry offence at classism or racism are unlikely to be responding reflexively to a personal trauma, and more likely to be responding in an, at least partially, reasoned way to injustices felt on behalf of (or as part of) a group, including groups to which they do not belong.
To argue trigger warnings are required for class content that refers to colonialism or Islamophobia is to stretch the meaning of “trigger” to breaking point, making it refer both to pathological fear and to normal moral disapproval.
As Alice said to Humpty Dumpty: “That’s a great deal to make one word mean.” To which Humpty replied: “When I make a word do a lot of work like that … I always pay it extra.”
About The Thanksgiving Play
Four well-intentioned white high school teachers scramble to create a pageant that somehow manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month. What could possibly go wrong?
Best production of this delightfully fun show that I have experienced in my 33 year reviewing career! The Lyric Stage Company at 140 Clarendon St. in Boston presents this award-winning sci-fi pulp musical on its award-winning, popular and intimate stage. The musical is also currently enjoying a successful off-Broadway revival in NYC. With an upbeat score composed by Alan Menken and a Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, this production has been inoticebly directed and choreographed with many delightfully clever and extraordinarily perfect details by IRNE Award-winner Rachel Bertone.
The quirky story takes place in a failing flower shop in a run-down, “skid row” neighborhood in NY City. Four time IRNE and four time Norton Award-winner, Scenic Designer, Janie E. Howland*, thrusts the audience into the center of the sad, little shop that is situated in the slums.
The tale opens with the timid, clumsy, and overtly submissive Seymour Krelborn played by Dan Prior. Seymour, who was taken from an orphanage and has been brow-beaten to work for the abusive and greedy Mr. Mushnik (Remo Airaldi), the owner of the shop. Seyomour has always had a fascination for propagating strange plants. He also harbors a secret crush for his coworker Audrey (Katrina Z. Pavao), a simple, sweet and kind girl who is under the influence of her sadistic, physically and verbally abusive, motorcycle-riding, psycho dentist boyfriend, Orin (Jeff Marcus). During a mysterious total eclipse of the sun, Seymour acquires a rare and very strange plant that resembles a super-sized Venus Fly Trap.
But the plant, affectionately named, Audrey II, is struggling to survive until Seymour accidentally pricks his finger on a thorn and the plant responds to his blood. Throughout the show, Audrey II’s growth becomes insanely rapid and highly animated…which is cleverly achieved through the creative puppetry of Cameron McEachmen The unusual plant, revived by Seymour’s blood is placed in the shop’s window where its sudden notoriety results in unprecedented success for the business. But unbeknownst to everyone, this mysterious, and as we learn, conniving and voraciously carnivorous plant begins to speak. It goads Seymour into satisfying its blood thirsty needs by promising to fulfill Seymour’s every wish. The seductive, off-stage lyrical vocals for Audrey II are supplied by the IRNE Award-winning Yewande Odetoyinbo.
For the flawless cast selection, Dan Prior as Seymour and Katrina Z. Pavao as Audrey provide perfect vocals and gentle chemistry to their roles. From the fine-tuned, tonal harmonies of the mega talented trio chorus, consisting of the award-winning Lovely Hoffman”, Carla Matinez* and Pier Lamia Porter* to the, always show pleasing and hugely funny antics of long time Boston favorite Remo Airaldi (Mr. Mushnik), as well as to Jeff Marcus*’, who one would swear had studied Steve Martin’s movie role as Orin, the nitrous oxide-addicted dentist and Audrey’s violently abusive boyfriend, the musical is wonderful. Jeff also enchanted the audience with his multiple other roles during the production. The orchestra and music direction were all attained, behind the scenery and were under the keyboard and baton of the IRNE Award-winning Dan Rodriguez. I must add that when one sees the names of Bertone and Rodriguez, together on the Playbill, you can be assured that the show will be stellar. The NY Times stated that Little Shop of Horrors was, “A show for horticulturists, horror-cultists, sci-fi fans, and anyone with a taste for the outrageous.” Tickets for this incredibly entertaining and engaging classic musical may be purchased at www.lyricstage.com
“We strongly believe that art belongs to all people and we’re so pleased to be part of the BPL’s Museum Pass Program, which we hope will help provide access to live theatre for many members of the Boston community.”
Boston Public Library provides educational and cultural enrichment free to all for the residents of Boston, Massachusetts and beyond, through its collections, services, programs, and spaces.
Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library is a pioneer of public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. As a City of Boston historic cultural institution, Boston Public Library today features a central library and twenty-five neighborhood branches, serving nearly 4 million visitors per year and millions more online. Boston Public Library is a department of the City of Boston, under the leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
We chatted with Cameron McEachern, the Puppet Designer for Little Shop of Horrors about Little Shop revivals, his design process, and experience with puppet-making.
Little Shop Plant Thoughts:
This has always been one of my favorite shows. Great story, great music and the fun-factor of a man-eating plant. The only usual downside is that most companies do not build their own plants, but rather rely on rentals. So it’s very exciting that Lyric is producing the show with brand new, never before seen puppets. I’ve always believed that the charm of the plants is that they ARE a foam rubber monster, like the b-movie creatures that they are referencing. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a puppet show … but somehow the over the top text of the show combined with well-made puppets makes it work.
We are building our plants utilizing the blueprints for the original off-broadway puppets designed by Martin P. Robinson who, fun fact, is Mr. Snuffleupagus and Telly Monster on Sesame Street. While we are staying true to the original shape and structure of the pods, I have chosen to use a color palette that is more natural and plant-like rather than the brightly colored rainbow puppets that are commonly used. While designing the plants, I worked hard to not only convey growth in size but also show the evolution of the plants from cute baby pod to giant monster. She starts off a pale yellow but as the show progresses and she is fed more and more, her pod becomes greener and greener. As she grows, she develops roots, thorns, warts, and vines. The taper of her lips and snout become more pronounced and menacing.
My Background / Experience with puppets:
To be honest, I don’t have a huge amount of experience with puppets. I have had the opportunity to create puppets for shows in the past, but the majority of the work I do is as a scenic artist with a little prop fabrication thrown in there. What I have really enjoyed about this project is the wide range of skills I have been able to utilize while creating the plants … Paper mache, foam sculpture, sewing / patterning, painting / airbrushing and even a little carpentry… There is a lot more that goes into puppet building than meets the eye.
This award-winning sci-fi pulp musical about nebbishy Seymour who haplessly pines after his coworker Audrey. Suddenly, opportunity falls into his lap in the form of a mysterious, carnivorous, conniving – not to mention singing – plant that promises to fulfill Seymour’s every wish.
“A show for horticulturists, horror-cultists, sci-fi fans, and anyone with a taste for the outrageous.” – NY Times
About Cameron McEachern
Cameron McEachern (Puppet Design) is a Boston-based scenic artist, designer, prop fabricator, and costumer making his Lyric Stage debut. As a freelance artist, he has been fortunate to work with companies including the American Repertory Theater, Moonbox Productions, Reagle Music Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, The Company Theatre, and New England Scenic. He is also the paint charge for Wicked Amusements – an escape room and interactive amusement design company.