By Alycia Monaco
Wren Walker is not one to resist a dare. One day while walking home from school, her best friend Jimmy—‘Slim’— tells her that the old lady who lives across the river is actually a ghost. He is ultimately unable to prove that since he is afraid of crossing the river. In an attempt to prove that Slim is wrong and to try and get him to cross the river, Wren crosses the river and befriends the ‘ghost’. She also struggles to fulfill the traditional roles of womanhood as outlined by her community as her 13th birthday approaches.
Twelve-year-old Wren is ridiculed by her community for her disregard of expected gender roles in her community. It is then that the river, comprised of dancers dressed in blue costumes, begins to dry up and the old woman who lives across the river is said to be cursing the town with a drought that withers its crops. The wind swirls dust through the air and the shovels belonging to farmers clink against the hard dirt soil. Hunger strikes leave the townspeople angry and ultimately drive them to murder. It is then that Wren leaves town, never to return.
Lindsay Adams, a third-year Catholic University Master’s of Fine Arts in Playwriting candidate, wrote River Like Sin. It is inspired by the experiences the playwright had while growing up in the Midwest and is based upon a folktale written by the playwright, according to her note in the playbill.
Twenty-one-year-old Emily Cerwonka is a senior Drama and Psychology double major from Columbia, Maryland. But, when she’s on stage, she dons a yellow dress with buttons, splits her hair down the middle and wears her hair in braided pigtails to become 12-year-old Wren during the performance of River Like Sin.
“My favorite part was being able to create a beautiful piece of art with all of my fellow actors. It was a very collaborative process, so a lot of the decisions about the show we made together,” Cerwonka said. “That is the great thing about doing a new play— having the playwright in the room, you can ask so many more questions and get a deeper insight into the world you are creating.”
Senior English and Drama double major Nicole Smith agrees with Cerwonka. The two have been friends since freshman year.
“The use of various exits throughout the theatre, specifically by the river dancers, gave the illusion that the audience was immersed into the world of the play. I thought the actors gave compelling portrayals of each character, which is always refreshing to see. Even actors who play characters that seemed to be emotionally distant brought sympathy, and real emotions to their parts,” Smith said.
Smith also said the part of Wren Walker is similar to Cerwonka’s personality.
“Watching her play Wren was an emotional experience for me,” Smith said. “I think most people think that because she is small she would be perfect to play this role, since Wren is 12-years-old, but it is so much more than that. Wren, like Emily, is charismatic, talkative, and funny. I believe this was Emily’s most successful role since coming to CUA, and I’m so happy she gets to show everyone what she’s got, because she is a force to be reckoned with.”
Ali Rocha, a senior drama major and scene shop student worker, agrees that this was one of Callan Theater’s most successful productions.
“Louis’ set is one of my favorites of any show I’ve seen in the Callan, it fits a lot into a small space and has a lot of dimension and the general color palette was very fitting for the show. Kateri’ s costumes were so fitting and the red dress worn by River was elegant, well-tailored, and fitting for her character. I really liked the color palette in general,” Rocha said.
The production is also inspired by conservative, Catholic, religious communities of the 20th Century and features a young girl “on the brink of becoming a woman,” according to the dramaturge’s note in the playbill.
“I approached playing Wren just like how I would approach any character. I do not so much think about her age, but her range of experience. She has lived in the same place her whole life, she has never been to another state, and she lives in a small-town, so on and so forth,” Cerwonka said. “Her inexperience plays into her naivete and innocence throughout the beginning of the play, and a big part of her journey is learning that the world has so much more to offer than what is right in front of her.”
The production featured two directors, Shanara Gabrielle and Lee Cromwel, and the production shared the stage with The Knot. River Like Sin last ran over the weekend, on February 22nd at 7:30, on Saturday February 24th at 7:30 PM, and Sunday the 25th at 2 PM.
“I will miss everything about the show— but mostly I will miss experiencing the on-stage relationships, especially with John, who plays my best friend, Slim, in the show, and Danielle, who plays the old woman that I become very close to,” Cerwonka said.