Nightwood Theatre and Crow’s Theatre have partnered up this season to bring us Rose Napoli‘s latest play to the stage: Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells). Premiering at Crow’s Theatre this past weekend, and running until November 11, 2017, Lo… is a feminist retake on a student-teacher relationship, wrestling with sexuality and consent, literature and passion, right and wrong.
Nearing the World Premiere of Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells), Napoli took the time to chat with me about the impetus for writing this piece, her writing process, and much more.
Napoli first explained that Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) was developed through Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip playwright’s unit. It is a program for emerging writers. Before writing this play, she’d only produced one other show.
The play itself may have taken more than a couple of years to write. However, Napoli was busy working on other things. Time away from writing allowed time for the story to work itself out. “Fermentation is important in the writing process… it’s important to let it sit, as it takes time figure out what you want to say. But first you have to also figure out what you don’t want to say.”
Napoli’s experience as a Child Youth Worker and as a teacher certainly played a part in her writing this play. In a way, she “didn’t know this [story] was germinating.” Talking to many young women during this time gave her real insight into how they see themselves, see their bodies, and how others’ views also impact their behaviour. The titular character in the play Lo/Laura is a composite of a younger Napoli, and other young women she’s worked with over the years. There is a “tragic and complicated view of our own sexuality — our bodies. There is also extreme shame… In some cases, an obsession with teenage promiscuity develops due to a feeling of abandonment some young people experience.”
When young, everyone searches for safety. This is especially the case if you lose a parent. Napoli explained how she didn’t realise until later in life, that her own outlook on many things was “wrapped up in” the loss of her dad. In meeting other young women, Napoli encountered the reality that many young women believe that they can feel safe/secure through giving their bodies up. Society tells “us [as young women] that our worth is through our sexuality.” In realizing all this, Napoli found a way to put it all into words in the various drafts of Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells).
Andrea Donaldson, the play’s director, was also running the Write from the Hip program. Essentially, “she’s been with this show from the start” shared Napoli. Having Donaldson’s support throughout the writing process all the way through production was really valuable.
Vivien Endicott-Douglas (Lo/Laura) has been with the play since its first workshop. Sam Kalilieh (Mr. Wells) joined the team for this leg of development into rehearsal and production. In a way, they know the play more than Napoli. This “team is fearless,” she says. The story involves various intimate and physical moments between the two actors. There is great care around all of this; there have been “a lot of conversations with the two actors.” In Kalilieh’s case, he plays a predator. This is a challenging process for Kalilieh as an actor; “(a) because he is examining his own beliefs, and (b) because he is also championing a character.” Of course, the character of Lo/Laura is just as complex for Endicott-Douglas to portray.
From the preview performances, Napoli described that she’s decided to do two big cuts for the show. Just before the official premiere, Endicott-Douglas and Kalilieh will receive new lines to learn as well. In a way all performances are fluid… Napoli was sure to emphasize she could not be doing this show without the entire team.
Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) is important because it tackles sensitive yet timely themes. This can be “an uncomfortable play”… even Napoli herself needs time “to process after the show.” A lot will come up during the performance for audiences; there is sort of a fermentation process in receiving this play. The “play is a bit of a ride” but there is also laughter. After the previews, Napoli has noticed people talking after the show. They “feel taken care of… people want to keep talking.” Audiences will need to talk about this and make it make sense to them.
Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) plays as part of The Consent Event, a play series and symposium navigating the minefield of modern sexuality. The play series is a challenging conversation, in a way. Napoli reminded me that she is grateful to the audiences for being open to the story and for taking care to discuss it afterward. The idea is “to create art that inspires us”, and I think Napoli, the Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) team, and The Consent Event are doing just that.
Performances are selling out.
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*Photo of Rose Napoli by Dahlia Katz.