“Quitters Never Win” tells the all-too-familiar story of an awkward reunion post-first-year in college.
The one-act play — directed by Spencer Roth-Rose ’17, written by Brad Weekes '17 and produced by the Production Workshop — places the audience in the middle of a catch-up session between Paul and Mark, performed by Sam Heft-Luthy ’16 — a former Herald senior staff writer — and J.D. Laurence-Chasen ’17, respectively, at a typical diner with red-checkered tablecloths. From the stage set to the actors’ natural deliverance, the play creates an undeniable atmosphere of familiarity and nostalgia. The two friends revisit past anecdotes while coming to terms with their changed realities after spending a year apart, a phenomenon that resonates with many college students.
The conversation starts rather light-heartedly, as Paul and Mark discuss the ordeal of finding the right time and place for masturbation and the necessity to consider their roommates’ schedules. Their conversation sweeps through most, if not all, of the topics that may have crossed the minds of many young adults, moving from masturbation to sex to the overratedness of sex and finally, to love. Several segments of their conversation — such as when Mark obsesses over Paul dating a girl for over a year without being “Facebook official” — elicit laughter from the audience, a testament to the humor and relatability of their stories.
But the mood shifts dramatically when, while tickling Paul, Mark mistakenly calls him Rich, the name of an old mutual friend. One sentence after another, they unravel their friend’s depression and eventual suicide. The previous pleasantness turns sour as Mark expresses no sympathy for Rich. Here, Laurence-Chasen gets up and walks swiftly around the booth. He locks eyes with the audience and shouts, “No one in this shitty diner is happy,” maximizing the audience’s discomfort, which escalates to guilt. Mark’s own unhappiness becomes apparent in this scene, and Paul attempts to soothe him. But Mark remains in denial, calling Rich a “quitter” in life. He notes that, while everyone may seem sad, seldom do people act upon this sadness and commit suicide.
Woven into this one-on-one conversation is a dining ritual: the two men order the usual — chicken fingers for Paul and banana pancakes for Mark. In fact, Mark’s obstinate insistence on banana pancakes exasperates their long-time favorite waitress, Renata, performed by Pei Ling Chia ’15. Chia embodies a quirky, animated character, as she appropriately rolls her eyes, sighs loudly, shouts and curses while putting up with her customers. At times her exuberance seems out of place with the gravity of the play, but at the heavier moments, Chia’s angry demeanor and awkward mannerisms provide comic relief, alleviating the tension between the old friends.
From start to finish, the play maintains a precarious balance between familiarity and discomfort, humor and sorrow. In just 50 minutes, the audience joins the conversation between the two men, deciphering and grappling with multiple layers of secrets and emotions.