Let Love Light The Way

Inside the theater program’s recent play, “Marvin’s Room”.


media by Elizabeth Schlue

Arianna Johnson ‘23, Brooke Schenderlein ‘25 and Eliannah Nguyen ‘25 put a bald cap on Kieran Williams ‘23 for the second act of “Marvin’s Room” Nov. 17. The show took place 7:00 p.m. Nov. 16, 17, and 18. Tickets were $10 for adults and $5 for students. Williams’s character, Bessie, lost her hair due to chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. “It is weird to see myself without hair, but it was fine. Being bald is a result of chemotherapy and that’s just what Bessie had to go through,” Williams said.

When a person is diagnosed with leukemia – a disease that occurs when bone marrow and blood-forming organs begin to produce DNA with mutations – it can be a terrifying and surreal experience. Hearing that you have a disease that could kill you leaves a person shocked. There are options to consider. There is no cure. All of that, and more, can make a person’s head swirl. This is exactly what Bessie experiences in “Marvin’s Room” when she learns she has this life-changing disease. 

“Marvin’s Room,” by American playwright Scott McPherson, tells the story of two sisters, Bessie, played by Kieran Williams ‘23, and Lee, played by Alexis Murphy ‘23, as they attempt to reconnect after Bessie discovers she has leukemia. 

Throughout the play, Bessie takes care of their father, Marvin, played by Sasank Vepa ‘25, and their Aunt Ruth, played by Jeriann Villegas ‘23, even though her leukemia is growing increasingly worse. On the other hand, Lee, who had estranged herself from her family for many years now, does not understand how Bessie could be so kind and caring, even as she slowly dies. As the play continues on, however, Lee and Bessie reconnect, and Lee finally learns to show kindness and compassion to her sister once more.

Kieran Williams ‘23 played Bessie Lancaster in “Marvin’s Room.” Throughout the show, Bessie focuses on caring for others instead of herself.

“Bessie is such a kind soul. Every action is derived from her love for her family and her true selflessness. The show centers around the idea of light that is brought by Bessie into the lives of others. She is entirely motivated by her love for her family. She values honesty and organization,” Williams said. 

Alexis Murphy ‘23 played Lee, the mother of Hank and Charlie and the sister to Bessie. Bessie and Lee struggled with a distant relationship before the time of the play taking place. 

“In the beginning, Lee wants to run away with a boy, and then later on her father has a stroke. Lee does not want to be stuck taking care of him and her aunt so she leaves it to Bessie to handle, which causes this big disconnect between the two,” Murphy said. 

Lily Moon ‘24 played Charlie, Lee’s daughter. 

“Charlie is nine years old. She always has her nose in a book and is seen as slightly naive and introverted,” Moon said. “She loves her older brother, Hank, more than anything in the world and looks up to him and everything he does. She sees Hank as her hero and aspires to be like him. She’s also struggling in school because she doesn’t care as much as she should. She doesn’t really have the ability or resources to do well.”

Stella Catalano ‘24, who played Dr. Walley, Bessie’s doctor, was the first doctor to diagnose Bessie with leukemia. Dr. Walley helps her look for treatments and a way to save her life throughout the play. 

“My character is super friendly and kind. She is definitely a bit of an airhead and forgets where things are all of the time, but she has good intentions in her work. I think she values happiness and hope the most, because when she is beginning to tell Bessie that she may have leukemia, she tells her that she is an individual, not a statistic, and not to lose hope,” Catalano said. 

Bessie’s Aunt Ruth, played by Jeriann Villegas ’23, has been living with Bessie and Marvin. She lives with them because she also needs help taking care of herself due to her severe back pain. 

“Ruth is kind of a crazy lady who had severe back pain,” Villegas said. “But, she tries to bring joy to the show. Ruth is everyone’s aunt. She is light-hearted and happy but worries about her family. She wants what is best for them while Bessie is sick.”

While the cast had put in their fair share of work, the tech crew backstage worked tirelessly to make “Marvin’s Room” the best show it could be as well.

Brooke Schenderlein ‘25 was the costume head for “Marvin’s Room”. She put together all of the costumes on the stage to match the aesthetic and theme of the show. Schenderlein also worked with the rest of the costume crew to help with quick costume changes.

“This show is spread out over multiple days, so costumes have to change very often. However, we don’t have a lot of time for [the actors] to change. We now have to put costumes underneath their other costumes so it is easier for them to change,” Schenderlein said. 

Nick TeSelle ‘25 was the light head for “Marvin’s Room”, and was in charge of directing the lighting for each scene. 

“My job is to teach a group of about ten students how our theater lighting system works, the designs and positions of the lights, and more,” TeSelle said. 

Assistant prop head Lexi Hayden ‘24 helped the prop head, Savannah Ryan ‘23, lead the rest of their crew through scene changes and taking props offstage, as well as bringing them onstage.

“Every show has its own problems. With this show, we have lost a lot of prop people, but we’ve been trying to work around it to keep the show rolling by assigning more people jobs or taking some kids from other crews to help,” Hayden said. 

Elyssa Jennings ‘23 was the stage manager for “Marvin’s Room”. She acted as the head of all the backstage crews, second to only the director, drama teacher Cindy Baker. Jennings was in charge of everything that happened backstage, from telling lights and sound crews when their cues are to directing when scene changes are supposed to happen for the prop crew.

“A couple of times, there was trouble with the lights not hitting actors’ faces or leaving dark spots on the stage. We dealt with them by communicating with the light head so that he could fix it,” Jennings said. “I feel like we were really prepared and ready for the show. So much work was put in and everybody on all sides of the play worked so hard.”

Technical director Alexandra Jacot ‘24 controlled set construction, giving everybody jobs and making sure production of the set is safe and efficient, as well as just helping around with any crew she can during the actual production.

“I think it’s really good. I think the things that we miss, we fix, and it’s great.

— Alexandra Jacot '24

“I think it’s really good. I think the things that we miss, we fix, and it’s great,” Jacot said. 

The performing arts teacher, Cindy Baker, blocked the scenes and ensured the show stayed on its production schedule, and more to direct “Marvin’s Room.”

“I think that what I’ve learned during the show is that this play is not about the person I thought it was about. I thought it was about Bessie, but it’s really about her sister, Lee, who left the family and now is being brought back into the family commitments and obligations and love,” Baker said. “It just kind of reflects Marvin’s life and it’s more people shedding light on other members of the family which is kind of illustrated with the lights that bounced around Marvin’s room to keep him entertained. So, ‘Marvin’s Room’ is really his family, and the lights are their love.”

The crew of “Marvin’s Room” worked on the show since early Oct., and the actors worked even earlier. The show was presented for a live audience on Nov. 16, Nov. 17, and Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.