Theatre Capstone groups shake off the “inevitable death” trope with “Rose is a Rose” and “From Will to Women”

Phoebe Lease ’21 | Arts Editor

There seems to be something about the “bury the gays” trope that screenwriters just can’t get enough of. You can find it in everything, from Degrassi to NCIS to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you find a non-straight or non-cisgender character you like, chances are that they’ll be killed off, kicked out of their home to never be seen again or otherwise conveniently erased from the main storyline. Are LGBTQIA+ folks in the media always doomed to a bleak future, or can room be made for more positive endings?

Last week, a theater senior capstone group performed “Rose is a Rose,” a collection of LGBTQIA+ love stories that are free from the assumed “tragedy” of being gay. “The Fingerlings” capstone group, consisting of Isabel Brinton-Fenlason and Rosemary Ewing, titled the piece after a poem called “Sacred Emily” by lesbian author Gertrude Stein. The pair collected non-hetero love stories from residents all around the Pioneer Valley, turning them into honest, anonymous monologues for their show. Some stories still dealt with the struggles of family acceptance or violence, but many more were about self-discovery, tender relationships and bright futures.

The performers did the stories justice, delivering their lines with the right balance of hesitancy and optimism. They shared narratives of polygamy, asexual relationships and transitioning at the same time as a partner. One person talked about their amusing first experiences with the gay dating app Grindr, saying, “The guy whose profile picture was [actually] his face was the first date I went on.” Others talked about the intricacies of falling in love with a friend or just reminisced about the day-to-day details of loving relationships.

“Rose is a Rose” refuses to engage in the idea of coming out as the pinnacle of a queer person’s life nor does it give voice to yet another tale of queerness automatically leading to tragedy. These are stories with happy endings. As Ewing puts it: “Sometimes you just want the space to forget about what your relationship means to the world, in the world, and simply focus on what it means to you and to the person or people you love.” In “Rose is a Rose,” those in the LGBTQIA+ community are able to find long-lasting love. Most importantly, even when they don’t, they can still lead complex lives that don’t center around gay despair for the straight world’s viewing pleasure.

Also on the program for last week’s show was “From Will to Women,” put together by the capstone group “B***h Collective.” The collective examines female characters in the work of Shakespeare and asks why women are so often used as “collateral damage” in the male protagonists’ adventures.

Cordelia, Ophelia and Juliet run barefoot on the sparse stage, pining after their respective male hero only to be pushed away once they’ve outlived their usefulness. The show splices these works together in a way that highlights the predictable demise of each of Shakespeare’s women. After Juliet’s suicide, Ophelia’s drowning and Cordelia’s banishment, the three women rise from the dead to face the audience. They recite the famous speech from “As You Like It” in a haunting chorus: “All the world’s a stage, and one man in his time plays many parts. / And what roles do the women play? / They have their exits and their entrances… mostly their exits.” The three women join hands, each holding a flower from Ophelia’s watery grave. They let the brief silence hang between them and then give a warning: it’s time to wake the women up.

Although these two shows slightly differ in their topics, they both connect in the idea of better representation in the media. “From Will to Women” gives the audience courage to ask for more from our supposed representation, and “Rose is a Rose” gives the building blocks to create it for ourselves.