Courtesy of Aderonke Adejare
Last weekend, the Yale Dramatic Association presented “St. Valentine’s Home for the Forgetful and Lost” — an original comedy murder mystery as a part of its 2021 FroShowCase. It was the third performance in the Dramat’s FroShow series: productions entirely staffed, crewed and performed by first-year students.
Written by Samantha Fisher ’24, “St. Valentine’s Home for the Forgetful and Lost” is about the investigation of two murders by a private detective Edna Mauve in a home for amnesiacs in 1947. Throughout the play, characters reveal their secret backstories in unexpected ways. Owing to their amnesia — or pretense of the disease — these characters inadvertently help or obstruct in solving the mystery.
“I was initially inspired by 1940s to ’50s detective novels, especially by Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie,” Fisher said. “I always found the genre very entertaining, but I also noticed that it almost never had a female protagonist, and women were often represented not in the best way. So, I was interested in using the murder mystery genre but bringing in a woman detective instead of playing off tropes.”
After working on her screenplay, an intricate work tying several secrets and clues together, Fisher submitted her final draft to Dramat in the fall. When the play was accepted as part of the FroShowCase, she revised it again. In late February, she began staging it virtually with a team of other first years who were matched on the show with her. This team included director Aderonke Adejare ’24 and producer Spencer Staak ’24.
“For my first show, I knew I wanted to direct either mystery, comedy or romance,” Adejare said. “I was so lucky to get an opportunity to direct a show that has all three! Of course, everything was built around the murder investigation, but the characters were super comical and all over the top. And there was even a little bit of romance going on.”
Fisher said she was “a little apprehensive” going into the production process because of the widespread perception of theater as a live art form. Fisher feared that an online play would not do justice to the medium, but the FroShowCase experience changed her mind. Fisher was extremely thankful for the cast and crew’s “enthusiasm and adaptability to Zoom.”
The production team made several adjustments and successfully incorporated different Zoom elements into the play. For instance, there were scenes when the main character, Edna, broke the fourth wall and spoke to the audience. In a live theater, this is typically staged through the use of a spotlight. Over Zoom, the team decided to recreate this effect by borrowing from techniques of noir detectives, and chose to draw attention to Edna’s monologue by making other on-screen characters black-and-white and frozen.
The crew also worked to highlight the 1940s setting of the story through costume and set design. To bring more authenticity, Carter King ’24, the show’s costume designer, handmade some of the cast’s outfits.
Team members noted the fun and welcoming environment during the production process and shared a sense of gratitude for an opportunity to connect with other first years.
Adejare said she did not want the rehearsals to cause any “unnecessary stress,” so the production team tried to accommodate everyone’s schedules and to promote an “atmosphere of a true comedy.” According to her, working on the show never felt like a burden. Instead, it reminded her more of “hanging out with friends.”
As a result of this nurturing work environment, the team produced an amusing and complex show despite the show’s relatively short length of under an hour.
“My main wish was for the viewers to root for the characters, laugh at them a lot and constantly wonder how the plot will eventually unravel,” Fisher said. “Watching my created characters come to life felt magical to me. I hope that our team created a similarly magical experience for the audience.”
Dramat’s final virtual production of the FroShowCase, “Desire Above All Else,” will be performed on May 7 and May 8 at 6 p.m.