A line of eager students trailed outside the Jonathan Edwards College Theater on Saturday night to relive their early-teen experiences through “Flush,” a play written by Rachel Calnek-Sugin ’19.
“Flush,” produced by Casey Odesser ’20 and directed by Aparna Nair-Kanneganti ’20, portrays a semester in the lives of five 15-year-old girls as glimpsed through scenes in the bathroom of their New York City public high school. Calnek-Sugin’s play forms a long and empathetic narrative, composed of language that is poignant and tender, as her teenage protagonists precariously grapple with love, intimacy, race, friendship and sexuality.
“It hit me with the feels,” said audience member Juliana Viola ’21. “I felt like I could see my past high school self in the characters.”
Set in the private-public space of a high school bathroom, the play features a simple one-set stage, complete with a hand dryer, janitor’s closet, an imitation of a suspended mirror and three strips of strategically spaced duct-tape marking the gaps between stalls. But for the five New York teens in the play, the seemingly innocuous site transforms into a space of self-discovery, existential teenage crises and squandered love.
Calnek-Sugin said she found inspiration for the play in her “obsession with female adolescence” and her frustrations with representations of young teenage girlhood in all forms media.
“[Adolescence] is a mythically difficult and lonely time when everything felt so dramatically tragic or comedic,” Calnek-Sugin said.
Playing with a host of dynamic characters ranging from a queer couple of color and a white girl with an eating disorder, Calnek-Sugin goes beyond a cliche high-school drama to craft her own unique and personal narrative.
“Flush” presents distinctly unconventional roles, alert to the smallest subtleties of each character: Charlotte Foote ’21 played the beautiful, privileged Rae — who turns out to have a past riddled by a dark sexual encounter and an unshakable purging habit. Rayo Oyeyemi ’20 played the eccentric and pragmatic Jenny, whose narrative is comedic but also shows her struggling with her sexual identity. And Emily Locke ’19 — who played the college admissions-conscious Karen — said her final scene, in which a nervous breakdown required her to cry all three nights of the performance, was an “emotionally taxing experience.”
“I felt more invested as the play progressed,” said audience member Dayle Chung ’21. “The relationships were very well-developed and realistic.”
Nair-Kanneganti, the director, told the News that rehearsals began during the second week of shopping period this semester and culminated in a final blitz of preparation, consisting of five-hour rehearsals every night.
Collaboration was pivotal in “Flush,” and by encouraging the actors to “feel out the scene on their own first,” Nair-Kanneganti said, she allowed them to add personal nuances that helped them fully embody their characters.
“Flush” marks Rachel Calnek-Sugin’s first full production at Yale.
Allison Park | firstname.lastname@example.org