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‘Sappington!’ features comedic plots, all-female cast

Emily Garrison ’16 worked on the play for many years prior to its selection at the PW

It’s “A Clockwork Orange” with a comedic twist. It’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” with an electric chair. “Sappington!” also called “The Lamentations and Tribulations of Butlerhood,” written and directed by Emily Garrison ’16, features a multitude of small plots that invariably spin into abnormal and absurd outcomes in its flashback-centered structure.

For its slot at the Production Workshop, “Sappington!” beat out works submitted by seniors, something Garrison said is an “extremely validating” culmination of her writing efforts.

“When I got to Brown, I started to lose confidence in my skills when I didn’t get into the first 10 shows I auditioned for,” she said, adding that she had experienced success in theater at her high school. “It was discouraging, but this is a really nice confirmation (for) me.”

The protagonist of Garrison’s play, Barnabus Sappington, a butler, seeks therapy for his unsettling dreams. Unfortunately for him, his psychologist is a quack who probes into Sappington’s past for his own amusement.

Garrison said she has worked on the play for many years. “It’s been in the works for quite a long time,” she said, tracing its origins back to a project she worked on in eighth grade, when her theater class made a show featuring a patient in therapy. “I had a lot of fun with that, and I guess it was a big influence on me,” she said.

The theme of a patient in therapy resurfaced when Garrison submitted a play to her high school’s one-act festival, she said.

The calling card of “Sappington!” is its collection of hilariously self-absorbed characters — from a sadistic eight-year-old who insists on being addressed as “high queen of despair, tragedy, torture and death” to an elderly Broadway actress still basking in the anachronistic glow of her 15 minutes of fame.

“Most of the characters just arose naturally from jokes that I wanted to put in the show,” Garrison said.

The first of Sappington’s abuses are suffered at the hands of a British family, the Hwatts. In recounting his experience to his therapist, Sappington’s pronunciation of the family’s name causes confusion reminiscent of the classic “Who’s on First?” sketch by William Abbott and Lou Costello.

“The Hwatts came about as a gimmick about people not being able to understand British accents,” Garrison said. “I thought of the confusion when a name sounds like another word and just went on from there.”

The language-confusion theme occurs again in the final scene, when a well-intentioned flamenco dance lesson leads to a riotous misunderstanding.

Though the play features male and female characters, all of them are played by female actresses.

“I went to an all-girls school (before coming to Brown), and my theater director was a strong advocate for women’s theater,” she said, adding that the strength of her school’s theater department inspired her to pursue all-female casting in her own works.

Garrison said she also hopes to make a statement about the underrepresentation of women in comedy.

“People seem to have the idea that women aren’t as funny as men, just by default, but that’s just not right,” she said. “One of my main goals is in this show is to have women make people laugh, to prove that women can be funny, too.”

The play’s production faced a minor setback when one of the actresses suffered a mild concussion and shock during a warm-up at Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal, but Garrison said the performance will run on schedule.

“Sappington!” will run tonight at 8 and Saturday at 2 p.m. in the PW Upspace.


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