NU senior stars in Chicago play ‘Herland’

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(Credit: Gracie Meier)

Communication senior Simi Ball plays Natalie, the teenage intern, in Redtwist Theatre’s “Herland.”

Janea Wilson, Reporter

A tale as old as time: A trio of long-time friends in their 70s turned Bruce Springsteen cover band find an unlikely friend in a recent high school graduate. While it’s no fairytale, this relationship is explored in Grace McLeod’s “Herland.”

“Herland,” playing at Redtwist Theatre until April 20, is a show about 18-year-old Natalie who gets a job interning with elderly neighbor Jean as she and her friends create a DIY retirement home in her garage. Recently divorced, Jean decided to take back the space that was home to her ex-husband’s Bruce Springsteen cover band and make it her own.

“Especially in theater, there are so few plays that take women in their 70s seriously and there are pretty few plays that take teenage girls seriously,” McLeod said.”I wanted to put them in conversation with each other and explore the similarities.”

Playwright McLeod said her friendship with a woman in her mid-70s while she was finishing high school inspired the plot. She said she noticed they were going through a lot of the same things and wanted to capture that with this show, portraying the success of intergenerational dialogues.

“Herland” is McLeod’s first professionally produced play. It’s a part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, a program that brings plays to different cities with new cast in each location. Herland has performed in San Diego, Chicago and next in Los Angeles. McLeod used this opportunity as a chance to better understand her script and how to adapt it for the mainstage.

“It’s interesting to learn, especially over the course of multiple productions, something that specifically doesn’t work because of the cast of the show versus something that isn’t working in the text,” McLeod said.

McLeod added she has been editing the text to make it easier to interpret for all those involved in production. She also is working to better capture the full stories of all three women while making it evident that Natalie, the intern, is the protagonist of the show.

Communication senior Simi Bal, who plays Natalie in the Redtwist production of the show, said she took her character development very seriously and asked deep questions throughout the process. Her character juggles the reality of her sexuality in a conservative town with the uncertainty of her future, which Bal said she could relate to, as she is graduating in June.

Bal said she enjoyed filling the role and creating an intergenerational bond with her castmates. She added the show fosters a respectful and loving environment on and off stage.

“All the characters are good to each other,” Bal said. “They all help each other grow. They push each other’s buttons, but there’s love throughout.”

Director James Fleming echoed this sentiment. He said the show doesn’t follow the cliche of aged mentors guiding a younger person based on their past struggles, but rather they are all learning from each other.

“They’re all coming of age themselves and have real things to grapple with,” Fleming said. “There’s this idea that when you’re 70 you have it all figured out. One thing that was really fun to work with were the ways we never stop coming of age, no matter how old you are.”

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