David Setchell graduated from Castleton in 1999 and has since worked at a high school in Maine, where current Castleton senior theater majors Dalton-Jesse Cummins and Peter Michelsen, happened to attend.
For their directing projects this semester, they each decided to direct a play from “Almost Too Dark,” a book of four plays that Setchell wrote while they were in high school.
Michelsen’s play, “These Hands,” is about domestic violence, was performed first Friday night in Black Box Theater. Cummins play, “Letters,” followed and dealt with communication while people are in the Army.
“These Hands” was about a mother, father and daughter. The father, John, played by freshman Anders Bright, was abusive to his wife, Mary, played by Jessica Poljacik, who graduated from Castleton last year. He killed his wife in front of their young daughter Gracie, played by Katelyn Collins and then Erica James when she was older. He used the death of the mother to make sure Gracie was afraid of him because he hated her for being a woman.
At the beginning of the play he told Mary the baby wasn’t his if it was a girl.
Adam, first played by Vincent Tatro then Kyle McCarthy when he was older, wanted to help get Gracie out of the house so he wouldn’t be able to hurt her. She was afraid to talk because of him and when she found her voice, he threatened to kill Adam if he saw him again.
When he did go to the house to find Gracie, the narrator, Alexa Fryover, and the two hands, Katherine DiGuardia and Rachel Patch, held her back. The narrator was the guide for the story and the hands warned the characters about John throughout the play but they couldn’t, or maybe didn’t want to, hear them.
“Letters” was about a young man in the Army named Jimmy, played by Eric Ray, and the letters he’d written and received. His friend Troy, played by Rudy Ryan, didn’t receive or write letters, until he asked Taylor Swift to marry him. Jimmy’s mother, Mrs. Jones, played by Danielle McKeighan, was listening to a televangelist, Rev. Donald Livingston, played by Toné Sawyer, who was telling her that her child was a murderer.
His sister, Lizzie, played by James, was a drug addict being followed around by her dealer, Dex, played by Harry Reid. She was trying to get the courage to ask her brother for money while he was overseas.
Sage, played by Nicole DeCiccio, found out that she was pregnant with Jimmy’s baby and needed a way to tell him. Her doctor, played by Marcello Taravella and friend Sasha, played by DiGuardia, were trying to convince her to tell him.
A teacher Jimmy had a when he was young, Ms. Cook, played by Lexi Laubach, told him how proud she was of him and reminded him of his days in school. He flashed back to his friend Peter, played by Kit Hudson, trying to convince him to cheat and her telling him he was better than that. He admitted he didn’t want to leave his sister alone with their mom and she helped him with her so he could work on his project.
It all culminated with Agnes, played by Leenda Maraldi, finding out that the reverend didn’t know what to believe anymore because of the fight he was causing between Jimmy and his mom, then him realizing he was addicted to the money and running into Lizzie while she was running away from Dex. Sage went into labor and Death, played by Tatro, Collins, and Gabrielle Lazzaro closed in on Jimmy.
Gun shots killing Jimmy went off followed by screams of pain from Sage in labor, and the cries of his mother finding out he was dead happened back to back to back. Drew, played by Leo Richardson played a sad song on the guitar and it was over.
After both shows were finished, Setchell, Cummins, and Michelsen held a talkback for the audience and actors.
“The four shows in the book are our four years of high school,” Michelsen said.
Setchell actually wrote the shows while they were being performed.
“A lot of the stuff, the actual dialogue, was generated in rehearsal with the kids as we’re going through,” Setchell explained.
His former students had both worked on or acted in the shows while they were in high school, but they didn’t try to recreate what they’d done in the past.
During the talkback, an audience member asked them if they were nervous about Setchell seeing anything they did differently, both quickly said “yes.”
“Inside the book “Almost Too Dark,” he specifically says, in writing, in the end when Jimmy dies, I created this cool invention called the blood straw, which is a straw with a bunch of red fabric that blows out so it looks like gunshots. I didn’t want to do that, because I’m a rebel,” joked Cummins.
“The book says I prefer to use this. I don’t care. I thought it was strong to give the deaths the option of touch. When they touch, that is the moment of a death wound,” Cummins explained.
Setchell, however, wasn’t upset about the liberty.
“The thing that I thought was most successful about your show was that first hand, right here,” Setchell said making the gesture one of the people that represented Death did on Jimmy’s shoulder.
Michelsen said there were two things that made him nervous.
The first was the switch from young Gracie to older Gracie not being hidden due to not having a way to hide it in a space like the Black Box.
The other was the hands.
“The original production had seven hands, not including the narrator and I condensed it to two and had to pick who was saying what line and I was very scared about how that was going to turn out,” Michelsen said.
Setchell wasn’t offended. Earlier in the talkback he explained why he was okay with people taking liberties with his shows.
“I don’t really care about the words that much. I care about the intentions of the show. I care about the thought process behind the show. They were work-shopped by high school students; they can be work-shopped by college students to make it so that it feels real,” Setchell said.
The final question came from Cummins and Michelsen’s most recent director, professor Harry McEnerny, who happened to be one of Setchell’s professors at Castleton as well.
“Can you describe what it’s like? You’ve known these boys since they were 14 years old, now they’re 21 and 22. Clearly you’ve had an impact on their formative years, even after, because they wanted to honor you by doing your plays again for you. What does that feel like?” McEnerny asked.
“I’m kind of blown away by this. First of all, the fact they came to Castleton. I love this place. I don’t get back here nearly enough. My time here was wonderful so when I think there’s someone that could benefit from the people here … I suggest it to them. To see these two here, and they’re actually going to graduate, and they’re in this department doing this thing we call theater; it’s cool. And it’s cool that they did my shows because I don’t know if anyone will ever do them again. I hope they will,” Setchell said.