Story by Jess Kung Multimedia Manager
I’m not a theater person, but I almost was. Participating in two shows in high school mostly amounted to a small circle of theatery friends that dissipated when we graduated and moved on. Theater has always been something that the people I cared about cared about.
The only person I stayed in contact with from then was my best friend, Jenna Cady, and they are most certainly a theater person. They’re a theater major at Pacific University in Oregon. In class, they read, see and write plays. Two years ago, they were an ensemble cast member of a production of R.U.R. by Karel Čapek.
Jenna had one line in that play. They were really excited about the production and drew me into that enthusiasm. And then, out of nowhere, I was booking a plane ride to Portland International Airport.
Side note: boy, do I feel weird guilt about flying! It’s hella bougie to fly up to Oregon for the weekend, but I feel a little better about it when I see how much money my peers spend on music festivals. We all have our extravagances. I’m trying so hard to not feel guilty for no reason!
But like, all art is extravagance if you don’t give a shit.
That was two years ago, but recently Jenna landed their first starring role in a play that was making its world premiere.
So the weekend before Halloween, I got a 15-minute ride to the airport and dozed off on a plane for two hours, on the Portland MAX light rail for an hour and a half, and on the bus for another 40 minutes until I was back in Forest Grove, Oregon. It was very warm, which was disappointing.
Jenna ran out of their playwriting class when I told them I was outside. We hugged. We got Hawaiian food, then I waited backstage with them before the show. They calmly put on foundation, mascara, lipstick and tied their hair back. Behind them, people were being covered in gray paint.
The play, “Hide,” was written by Jenna’s playwriting professor at Pacific University, Ellen Margolis (the professor of the class that they ran out of to greet me). It draws inspiration from “Rhinoceros” by Eugène Ionesco, but it’s not a straight adaptation. Also, it was very good.
It’s a story about a small town, set in a cafe. Everything is normal and Billie is losing her mind. And that’s before people start turning into rhinoceroses. It’s an allegory for mob mentality and unstable times, but it’s also meant to be a reflection of your interpretation as a viewer.
I spent a lot of that weekend worrying that I was going to regret going. It’s the middle of midterms, I have a lot of deadlines, papers, readings and projects. I tried to cram as much as I could before departing and I’ve been paying for the weekend since I got back. But seeing this show, with its amazing cast and all of the hard work and labor put into it, was worth it. It was worth seeing Jenna be a star.
Jenna never really got the chance to shine in high school. I had never seen them cast in a major role. Between the last show I had seen and now, they had amassed a lot of experience. Seeing them on stage, as Billie, a neurotic shut-in who they would later describe as “someone with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol,” was actually a revelation.
Seeing someone you know in character is a trip. I started out seeing my friend playing a role, and being proud of a really interesting performance, but soon became invested in the character finding their foothold in a crumbling world.
I don’t know whether having a personal investment in an actor makes you more or less charitable of their performance. I want my friend to be successful, but what if they’re bad? How do you face someone you flew across the country for, took a weekend off for, and tell them their work left something to be desired?
These are bad questions, the kind that pageant moms use to justify being very mean to their children. But I really don’t want to see Jenna fail. I want them to be celebrated, to be seen, because it’s always been clear that this human can work a stage.
But sitting in this little theater, in a little town in a different state, Jenna shone. I wasn’t worried. I was enraptured, pulled into this world of coffee, neurosis and rhinoceri.