Last night at 11pm, the doors to the Newman Studio opened, letting an excited crowd in to an intimate studio stage decorated in the style of an outdoors campsite: a tent, logs around a fire pit, and the centerpiece, a tree with a mysterious hole in its trunk.
Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm? is a 90-minute one-act horror play, set in the Michigan upper peninsula woods near Lake Superior in the year 2042. Three queer college-age students make a visit to the campsite that Harper, an AFAB nonbinary person, and their childhood friend Olive used to visit each summer. Olive’s recent girlfriend Gray tags along, putting a strain on the childhood best friends’ relationship as they settle into the campsite. The ongoing climate crisis and its consequences are worried about as they come to the site, which is growing increasingly more run-down and abandoned as the world tumbles into desolation. The play takes place over the course of a single night. Written by Emerson Mae Smith and directed by Mirit Skeen, the play was gripping and intense from beginning to end. The talented three-person cast, consisting of Alex Christian, Claire Vogel, and Edie Crowley, stunningly carried forward the plot of the play, revealing mysteries, secrets, and horrors at various twists and turns.
I was amazed by this play and how it ensnared the attention. In such an intimate setting, it was nearly impossible to remove oneself from the interactions that were going on in the middle of the studio. I find myself, the next day, still grappling with elements of the story and striking moments that stuck with me. The director’s note called the show “an opportunity to explore transness and horror,” and the author’s note emphasizes the importance of queer and trans representation in media: “When trans people are allowed to be full human beings in fiction, with all the complications that brings, we will be allowed to be full human beings within the world.”
I cannot congratulate the writer, cast, and crew enough for this fantastic performance. I will be thinking and talking about this one for a long time.