Written by Rachel Calnek-Sugin ’19, Flush is a play set in the bathroom of a New York City public school and consists of a series of fragmented scenes that cohere through the increasingly intertwined romantic lives of five 15-year-old girls. Tracing the ups and downs of high school life through the lenses of these girls, the play is produced by Casey Odesser ’20 and directed by Aparna Nair-Kanneganti ’20 through the Yale Drama Coalition. The play truly shines, however, in its stellar acting and richly tumultuous dialogue that spontaneously weaves together disparate threads such as queerness, love, death, eating disorders and what it means to really understand someone. I would highly recommend watching this delightful play.
The production takes place in the JE Theater, allowing for an intimate atmosphere. The setting of the stage is very simple and clean. A rectangular white frame (serving as a mirror) with two chrome faucets attached along the bottom hangs from the ceiling. Behind are three canvas chairs side by side, serving as toilets — occasionally over the course of the play, white squares of light illuminate the toilets suggesting cubicles. To the left are a white blow dryer and a graffitied locker representing a janitor’s closet. The addition of sound effects for running water, flushing toilets and the blow dryer allow for an easy imagining of the bathroom setting.
The play begins with each of the characters walking in and out of the bathroom, establishing the distinct personalities of the girls early on. Jenny (Rayo Oyeyemi ’20), dressed in ripped jeans and a “World’s Greatest Grandpa” t-shirt is perhaps the most dynamic character, whose chatter often flips from poignant and philosophical to rebellious. Jasmine (Mia Fowler ’20) is straight-laced, calm, cool and steadfastly (and unrequitedly) in love with Jenny. A constant presence onstage for nearly the entire play, Ari (Taylor Jackson ’19) sits silently in a toilet stall on her phone and often remains a disinterested, though at times acutely anxious, observer. Occasionally forced into the uncomfortable and unwanted position as receiver of confessions made by the girls, Ari seems to represent the essential role of a silent audience and witness in relieving the stress and drama of the other characters. Rae (Charlotte Foote ’21) is a classic pretty girl — cool, collected and often in the bathroom to touch up her makeup. Karen (Emily Locke ’19), Rae’s friend, is ambitious, seemingly in control of her life and already practicing for her college interview with Harvard.
Each character was portrayed in a way that felt incredibly true to character. Minute expression changes matched the nuanced emotions slipping in and out of the rapid, tempestuous conversations. I was struck by the ease and naturalness at which the actresses conveyed the transitions of emotions and dialogue in tandem. The back and forth between Jenny and Jasmine was conveyed in such a painfully poignant and tender manner. Though Jackson’s performance of Ari was an almost completely silent performance, it was easy to empathize with her moments of acute discomfort at being the unintended audience to emotionally charged confessions.
Initially, I was concerned about the potential for Rae and Karen to slip into tropes. Rae is a popular, skinny White girl has an eating disorder, and Karen, a high-achieving Asian girl obsessed with control, secretly fantasizes about losing all control in the most intimate situations. Foote and Locke, though, rise above their character stereotypes, freely walking in and out of their defined molds. In vulnerable moments, their carefully constructed roles fell away. In particular, Locke’s portrayal of Karen’s heaving breakdown sounded and felt incredibly realistic. Foote, too, felt most natural at times when Rae lost her cool.
Perhaps what I loved most about the play was the dialogue and the concept of the play to begin with. The tumultuous dialogue perfectly captured the drama of high school, as it oscillated between random tangential whims to thought-provoking questions about what it means to really be seen and understood. Furthermore, I love that the play is set in a high school bathroom — a sacred, equalizing space with cubicles as confessional booths — and focuses completely on the conversations of girls grappling with their sexualities. Though there is a boy at the heart of the mixed-up love entanglement, he is barely focused upon. Rather, the play remains singularly focused on the girls and their philosophical struggles.
Selena Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org