Created and written by the Associates; Directed by Jamal Abdunnasir
Produced by The Associates
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 1.27.18
A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street
by Katharine Nedder on 1.14.18
Peregrine Heard and Lauren LaRocca in Sheila. Photo by Casey Worthington.
BOTTOM LINE: A fascinating and deeply moving look at the depth of the relationship between two childhood friends, and how choice (or lack thereof) can change the course of a life.
In Sheila, the new play by The Associates, the frazzled but eager Gloria (Lauren LaRocca) has just returned to her hometown after years of life on a commune, where she was completely cut off from the world outside. She hustles and bustles, dealing with everyday tasks, until an old friend, the straight-laced and mature Mary (Peregrine Heard), suddenly arrives. After ten years apart, the two women are launched into a long game of “catch-up” as they debrief their radically different lives, confront each other about past indiscretions, and attempt to convince each other about the reasoning behind their stark difference in morals.
Their conversation begins with a beautiful amount of tension. While the precise nature of their relationship is not clear at the beginning, their constant talking over, and tip-toeing around, each other, along with their strained efforts at small talk, makes Sheila incredibly relatable and captivating, right from the start. As they talk, they settle into that old rhythm that only people with an incredible amount of love for (and history with) each other possess; the chemistry that LaRocca and Heard have truly shines through. Gloria and Mary share memories of their childhood and laugh about the stark differences between the lives they had imagined and the ones they are currently living. The conversation then turns darker, as the two women discuss and attempt to gain closure on the trauma they had experienced as girls.
Heard is a true standout as Mary, maintaining her poise almost eerily among Gloria’s anxious rambling and almost child-like excitement, until finally breaking down in a beautiful and vulnerable display of anger. This plays beautifully off of LaRocca's performance of Gloria as a woman with erratic tendencies and the ability to change at the snap of a finger when she feels her values being questioned.
Throughout the conversation, bombs about their past are constantly dropped, leaving the audience waiting for the next piece of the puzzle in this complicated relationship. The two women also delve into philosophical discussion, including arguments about happiness versus obligation and the meaning of life. As both characters are incredibly sympathetic, we are left to wonder which (if either) of the two women lives "right."
Woven into all of this is Sheila (Emily Stout), who runs through the scene at heightened moments of tension. Sheila’s presence, though purposely ambiguous, seems to link Gloria and Mary together in an almost supernatural way. Outfitted in a silk dress, with an eerily perfect doll-like face, Sheila is jarring, graceful, and otherworldly. Each moment draws the eye and each gesture is clearly calculated, serving as true testament both to Stout's performance and to Jamal Abdunnasir's direction.
Sheila is an emotional experience, both for the supremely talented actresses, and for the audience. It asks difficult questions, forcing us to actively piece together the story rather than serving as passive entertainment. Heartfelt and provocative, Sheila furthers the conversation about happiness, friendship, honesty, choice, and the roles that women play, or are conditioned to play. And Sheila does not disappear after the final curtain—it lingers, requiring time for full absorption. Indeed, the more time passes, the more intricate and beautiful the story becomes.
(Sheila plays at A.R.T/New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street, through January 27, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 8. Tickets are $18 ($35 reserved seating, $10 student/senior). For tickets and more information visit TheAssociatesTheater.com.)
Sheila is created by The Associates. Directed by Jamal Abdunnasir. Set Design by Brittany Vasta. Lighting Design by Tyler First and Victoria Bain. Sound Design by Mark Van Hare. Costume Design by Isabelle Coler. Stage Manager is Emily Fischer.
The cast is Peregrine Heard, Lauren LaRocca, and Emily Stout.