This weekend, Bowdoin’s student-led theater group, Masque & Gown, will debut its rendition of Liza Birkenmeier’s “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House,” a production that features a group of women navigating love, loss and change on the evening before Dr. Sally Ride’s historic space flight. Far from the launch on a sweltering St. Louis rooftop, these women grapple with their passionate opinions and restlessness as they watch their lives pass by before their eyes.
“Their uncharted desires bump against American norms of sex and power in this intimate snapshot of queer anti-heroines,” Jesse Green, New York Times Chief Theater Critic, wrote about Birkenmeier’s work.
Despite the challenges Masque and Gown faced with a shorter production timeline compared to their previous pieces, Director Julia Jennings ’23 praised the cast and crew for creating their own relationships to the material and spoke fondly of watching the play blossom with the input of her peers.
“They’ve blown me away with the discoveries that they make. Something I love about directing is I can look at the script and have all these images in my mind, but after they read it over, they surprise me with things I never would have imagined. They’re all incredibly smart and incredibly smart performers, and I really appreciate that,” Jennings said.
Jennings went on to celebrate the amount of careful thought, effort and passion her fellow Bowdoin students have put in, from intricacies in the set design, soundscape and lighting to details in the costumes—the knitted top one woman wears uses the same yarn that another woman is knitting with on stage.
“This play is extremely lifelike, and in a way, a kind of weird realism that merges wittiness with very serious, challenging ideas. It’s really interesting to see a nebulous line between a friend and a lover. How do we love each other in different ways that aren’t necessarily romantic?” Jennings said. “Life is also weird. I think the dialogue does a really good job of making everything feel so familiar and realistic to the audience.”
Lead actor Sophia Adami-Sampson ’24 who plays Harriet in the production reflected on the process of embodying her character and the intriguing steps the cast took to build personal histories for them.
“I love the script and characters because everything felt really accessible and natural. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this sort of stage business: how our characters move through space, how they sit, how they walk, different ways they’re fidgeting or knitting,” Adami-Sampson said. “It’s been really cool to just explore this kind of extreme realism. Their histories are also really important to us as we try to fill in the gaps in how they got here from what the playwright gives us.”
As graduating seniors this spring, both Jennings and Adami-Sampson expressed that their involvement with this production of “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” made a significant impact on their last semester at Bowdoin.
“It’s exciting to work on a project that I feel really passionate about as my final one. I’ve been working with Masque & Gown since I was a first-year, doing assistant stage managing, acting and writing, so it feels so exciting to finally be directing. Seeing new, passionate first-years coming in and learning the ropes makes it all feel full circle,” Jennings said.
“I hope our play makes the audience think of their own really dear friendships and the ways in which they shift, need nurturing and are fundamental to how we understand ourselves and the world.” Adami-Sampson said.
“Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” opens tonight at 7 p.m. in Wish Theatre and will be performed two more times on Saturday, April 22nd at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.