Senior stretch in directing 2-act play of ‘Now and Then’ 

March 24, 2024 — by Richard Fan and Jeremy Si
Courtesy of Sada Gill
Senior Ryan Cagliostro (young Jamie) mixes up a shot for a drinking game with junior Ryan Backhus (future Jamie) and junior Chloe Mantle (young Abby) in the play “Now and Then.”
Senior Ryan Cagliostro (young Jamie) mixes up a shot for a drinking game with junior Ryan Backhus (future Jamie) and junior Chloe Mantle (young Abby) in the play “Now and Then.” 

During a recent performance of “Now and Then,” playgoers were treated to an unusual sight: junior Chloe Mantle and sophomore Nila Venkataratnam hollering in sync, “I’m talking to myself!” at senior Ryan Cagliostro and junior Ryan Backhus. Mantle and Venkataratnam were in fact playing young Abby and future Abby, two versions of the same character in the play, and Cagliostro and Backhus were playing young Jamie and future Jamie. The audience burst into laughter at this unexpected exchange.  

Seniors Arushi Maheshwar and Ariana Tootoonchi directed “Now and Then” for their Drama 4H final project. It is a four-person play written by Sean Grennan for their Drama 4H final project. It was performed on March 1 and 2 in the Thermond Drama Center from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets were sold at $10 each.

Maheshwar said their production of Grennan’s romantic comedy aimed to explore how people’s lives are affected by their decisions to look for love or chase their dreams. 

“The core message of ‘Now and Then’ is that people have infinite decisions at many instances in life, and they will always choose the right path,” Maheshwar said. “It’s OK to have regret, but people must stay close to their loved ones and keep these moments close to their hearts.” 

“Now and Then” revolves around the lives of a time-traveling fictional couple, Jamie and Abby. The play opens with the couple at a bar in 1981, whereupon an old man shows up and offers them $2,000 to sit and drink with him for an hour. The old man then reveals himself to be Jamie from the future, who urges his younger self to avoid marrying Abby and to instead focus on his career. 

Later, future Abby arrives, notably upset by the interference. The time travelers share glimpses of their potential lives with their past selves. The play ends with a changed future, where Jamie and Abby pursue individual career paths before reuniting in the bar 35 years later and rekindling their love.

Tootoonchi noted that her favorite lines in the play are the deep monologues between the characters, such as a conversation between Venkataratnam (future Abby) and Backhus (future Jamie), in which Venkataratnam scolds Backhus, saying that no matter how tough their love was, it was still meaningful to her.

“I think that [these monologues] are relatable to everyone that has had to choose between two big things [in life],” Tootoonchi said. “Maybe they weren’t the funniest lines, but I feel that these monologues were super important to say and were very impactful.”

Students in teacher Ben Brotzman’s Drama 4H class are offered a variety of options to choose from as their final project, and while most chose to direct a one-act play, Maheshwar and Tootoonchi opted to challenge themselves by taking on a longer play with two acts.

The pair worked on the production for almost eight months before the performance, focusing on honing their “director’s concept.” This included making edits to the original script, interpreting lines and more. They then cast actors and recruited set designers roughly four months before the show date. 

“To choose the actors, we held auditions, and a good number of people auditioned,” Tootoonchi said. “Unfortunately, because the cast only had four actors, we had to cut some people. However, at the end of the day, we got a wonderful cast, and the outcome was phenomenal.” 

Aside from work on the production itself, Tootoonchi and Maheshwar were also tasked with writing a detailed script analysis and a post-production paper that analyzed various symbols used in the play and interpreted the play’s overall meaning.

Both Maheshwar and Tootoonchi, who are veteran members of the drama program, have prior experience directing plays. For instance, they both participated [as directors] in this year’s New Works festival; Maheshwar did assistant directing for the fall play “Almost, Maine,” and they are both assistant directors for the upcoming spring musical “Something Rotten.” 

This project is the culmination of their four years of learning after going through the drama program. 

“The experience of doing a full production — being in charge of an entire set, crew, costs, and whatnot — was a very valuable experience because I want to go into [drama production],” Tootoonchi said. “It really got me more excited for what is to come.”

Tags: drama, senior
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