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Teen Critic Review: Strange Interlude: Finding Happiness Outside the Box

About the Program

Designed for high school students interested in journalism and/or critical writing, the Teen Critic Program at Shakespeare Theatre Company teaches students how to view theatrical productions with a critical eye and how to write an informed comprehensive theatre review.

Teen Critics will be invited to the Press Night for each production (two complimentary tickets per production), receive a press packet, preferred press seating and will have the opportunity to meet with professional theatre critics from local newspapers and members of Shakespeare Theatre Company staff to learn about how to write an effective theatre review.

After seeing each show, Teen Critics will write a review and submit it to the Shakespeare Theatre Company Education Department (due one week after Press Night).  STC education staff will work with the Teen Critic to make revisions and then the review will be published in a school newspaper or online.

Strange Interlude: Finding Happiness Outside the Box

By Sarah Paez (TC Williams High School)

In a simple yet versatile white box, thirty years of a woman’s peculiar, and often dramatic search, for fulfillment are played out. Although the side characters at first seem like pawns in her quest for happiness, each is revealed over time to mean more than she ever could have imagined.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Strange Interlude, by Eugene O’Neill and directed by Michael Kahn, is four hours of the most intense theatrical experience one can be put through. How does one condense a woman’s life into the time it would take to make a day trip to the beach? But Kahn does so in a way that doesn’t feel beleaguering, because his direction puts emphasis on things that go unsaid. This is hard, especially in a play where the characters are instructed to speak their thoughts aloud. However, in this production, there is still a sense of mystery and suspense one can attribute to seasoned direction. In the first act, the characters’ body language and blocking convey a sense of despair in the main character Nina Leeds’s household as she makes the decision to leave home and start anew to escape the grief of her fiancé’s death.

As Nina Leeds, Francesca Faridany took what could be perceived as a particularly whiny, selfish woman and turned her into every woman—every person—who has ever wanted to achieve happiness. She exposed Nina’s troubled psyche and her slow descent into a sort of madness that stems from her need for a fulfilling life—which ultimately becomes a family to replace the hole her late fiancé Gordon left. By playing up Nina’s spunky side, Faridany created a likable, feministic heroine, shown through her insistence that, “God is a mother!” meaning she believes men think too highly of themselves. Her open defiance was also excellently supplemented with spot-on, wry side observations.

Each scene change was marked with haunting, melancholy music, composed by Fitz Patton, and screen projections of the new era to come, designed by Aaron Rhyne, both successfully creating a vibe of desolateness and enhancing Nina’s premonition that life ultimately equals pain. The set—a large, white box designed by Walt Spangler—was flawless, in that it could conform to any period in time with ease, and that it also signified the unchanging element of Nina’s life—her search for happiness.

Though this play may seem like four hours of unending depression, it honestly is not. In its span, love blooms, life is created, families form, and yes, break apart, and the struggle for happiness continues. Yet, at the very end, Nina and her childhood friend Charlie are able to say that though they have struggled to achieve something more, they must accept defeat. And with cheeky wit and resignation, they finally do. Strange Interlude has that keen ability to project a character’s feelings on the audience, leaving a person with the knowledge that fighting for happiness only means disappointment; letting life guide you may bring a sweet surprise.

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