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Student play shows family matters

Emily Young co-wrote “The Diner,” a play featured at Randall Theater last week.

Melissa Green and Emily Young finished the first draft of their original play at 4 a.m. on Green’s 17th birthday.

“It was like a birthday present to myself,” Green said. “I remember Emily planned a surprise party for me and pretended she was busy that day when I wanted to meet up and read it together.”

Young, a sophomore theater major at Temple, and Green, a sophomore theater arts and English double major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, teamed up to co-write “The Diner,” which was produced and performed by Temple Theater’s Sidestage Season. The show ran from Thursday to Sunday.

“The Diner” is set in a run-down, 1950s-themed diner in present-day Idaho over the course of two days. It includes several elements of the decade, like poodle skirts, checkered-patterned counters and roller skating waitresses, and rarely sees any customers after years of neglect. The play is a two-woman show that focuses on high school seniors and waitresses Amy and Heather.

Young has always been fascinated by families, and made it a central theme to the play.

“The rules are very blurred in the Western world,” she said. “We don’t have the same sense of familial duty that other cultures have, especially Eastern cultures.”

Both main characters try to balance the duty they feel toward their families with their duty to follow their own ambitions, Young said.

“They’re dealing with how they would react to their futures,” said Kate Brighter, a junior theater major and who plays Amy,  a character who is torn between whether or not she should leave her family while they’re struggling financially and trying to take care of her younger brother.

Junior theater majors Kate Brighter, (left), and Phoebe Gavula star in “The Diner,” an original student production revolving around issues of family, as two young women prepare to set out into the world. | DANIEL RAINVILLE TTN

Junior theater majors Kate Brighter, (left), and Phoebe Gavula star in “The Diner,” an original student production revolving around issues of family, as two young women prepare to set out into the world. | DANIEL RAINVILLE TTN

“Amy … is dealing with family issues. She has an autistic brother and an abusive mother. She’s also going away to college after graduation.”

Heather faces her own familial conflicts, as she becomes pregnant and feels obligated to stay home and take care of her baby instead of heading off to college like Amy.

“Her boyfriend is not the person she pictured herself ending up with in the long run, but now she’s sort of stuck in this situation and hoping to make the best of it,” said Phoebe Gavula, a junior theater major, who played the role of Heather. “I feel like it kind of ends with neither character really knowing if the best is happening or not.”

The play is a tragicomedy, meaning it doesn’t follow a traditional plot structure. Instead of building up to one climax and falling into a resolution, much of the conflict ends unresolved, leaving the audience on the fence about which characters they sympathize with.

“The Diner” was written to be truthful and relatable to a college-aged audience, Young said. The goal was for people to recognize themselves on stage even if their experiences may not have been exactly the same. Green said she hopes that the play gave viewers a new perspective despite the lack of resolution.

“I’m hoping they’ll feel not necessarily satisfied, because it’s not the most satisfying ending in the world,” Green said. “But I hope they leave feeling closer to the people around them. I hope they remember where they come from and who’s back home.”

“I hope they feel warm and fuzzy,” she added.

Young said she’s grateful TTSS decided to produce her play this season.

“It’s an honor to have your colleagues appreciate your work and want to put it on,” she said. “Somehow having a play produced feels like sending your only child off to boarding school. It’s like this leap of faith, and it’s also really exciting.”

Brooke Williams can be reached at brooke.shelby.williams@temple.edu.

Video by Caroline Vana.

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