The Project Final Report

Sophie MacArthur

Dr. Florescu  

August 22,  2018

The Project

 

I really enjoyed working on this research project with my mentor, Doctor Catalina Florescu. I was honored when she asked me to do it with her at the end of the fall semester of 2017.  Dr. Florescu was my professor then, for the second semester in a row. I really liked both of the classes that I was in with her and loved having her as a professor. This project was great for me to work on because for our research I read to two plays, Ella Carmen Greenhill’s Plastic Figurines and Dear Evan Hansen written by Stephen Levenson with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, both of which I could relate to in one way or another.

Plastic Figurines was about 18-year-old Michael and his older sister Rose dealing with their mother’s cancer and her eventual death. Michael has Asperger’s Syndrome. This makes the play all the more complicated because Rose now has to give up her own life to care for her brother. After their mother is gone, it seems as if she is the only family member left to do the job. She loves her brother but she also resents having to give up her life to look after him, which is not surprising. I know based off my own parents that taking care of and raising a kid with special needs is rewarding but challenging. Although I don’t have Asperger’s like Michael, I have my own struggles and my parents have needed to guide me throughout my life. I’m sure It’s never easy to watch your child struggle. Like Rose, my parents had to put some of their lives on hold to make sure I was successful. I am now in college and will graduate with a degree in just a couple short years. This is a wonderful accomplishment, something I never thought would happen when I was little. However, getting to where I am today wasn’t an easy ride. I had to work twice as hard as the average kid to get here and my parents helped with a lot of that. I think my point here is that although Michael and I have different diagnosis I can recognize some of myself in him and understand his struggles and frustrations. I can also understand Rose’s struggles and frustrations because I know a little about what it’s been like for my own sister to grow up with me. So why don’t we have these kind of topics in plays more! Ones that people like me can relate to even if we don’t have exactly the same diagnosis.

Dear Evan Hansen, a musical, with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, written by Stephen Levenson, also covers a topic I can really relate to and feel is not represented in the theater world enough. This is anxiety disorders, both social and general. I was diagnosed with OCD at a pretty early stage in my life. OCD affects many parts of me and it can be a real battle to fight against it. It can kind of make life suck sometimes. Evan Hansen, the main character of Dear Evan Hansen, struggles with anxiety similar to mine. He is very awkward socially. I’m not awkward socially but I can struggle with socialisation, especially amongst peer groups of larger quantities that I don’t know on a deep level. Evan also struggles with confidence in himself which is another thing I can relate to. I am very proud of all my accomplishments and like myself as a person for the most part. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not hard on myself and get frustrated easily when I might not be able to do something right. I tend to compare myself to others and feel insecure if I think they are better at something than me.  

When I worked with Catalina in the two classes, I felt like she saw me the way I wanted to be seen. A girl who needed a little extra accommodations in class but could also keep up with the class and be treated like a normal student. I think it’s fitting that she asked me to help her with a project that would promote more awareness of disability at Pace. I had seen The Curious Incident of the Dog At Night when I was out on Broadway, but did not really know that any other plays about people with special needs existed until I read Plastic Figurines. Up until I first saw then read Dear Evan Hansen, I only knew Next To Normal touched upon anxiety disorders. I learned this summer that there are more plays that represent these kind of things then I originally thought  but there could still be much, much more.

Dear Evan Hansen

Sophie MacArthur

Dr. Florescu

August 12, 2018

Dear Evan Hansen

When Steven Levenson’s play, Dear Evan Hansen first hit Broadway theaters in 2016, it was an instant hit. This musical with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, follows the life of a Evan Hansen, a senior in high school, being raised by a single mother. Evan struggles with confidence and socialness. He feels lonely both in school and at home since his mother must work a demanding job to earn a living for her and her son. His mother, Heidi, is also attending night classes so she can become a paralegal. One day, Connor, a another troubled boy at the school that Evan intends, commits suicide. His parents find a note that they assume is his suicide note lying beside him. It’s addressed to Evan and seems to be indicating that the two were good friends. This is not the case however. In reality, Evan wrote a note to himself encouraging himself to have a good day and be himself, which was an assignment from his therapist. A few days before Connor’s death, he stole the note from Evan and had it with him when he died. This misunderstanding leads to a whole series of events that put Evan in the spotlight for just a little while and give him a second family in addition to some solace in his life.

I really feel for Evan who I first met when attending a showing of this musical soon after it came out with my mother. The play introduces him pretty much right away, writing one of his notes to himself on his computer. Then soon after, Connor’s family is tricked into thinking that he and Connor were really good friends. This makes them very happy because Connor was a loner. He was difficult with his parents and his sister, into drugs. While I know what Evan did was not great, giving a desperate family somewhat false hope, I can understand his reasons for doing so. Evan’s father walked out on him and his mother when he was just a young child and he has a sense of abandonment. He finally finds a father figure in Connor’s father, Larry He becomes involved romantically with Zoe, Connor’s sister, Zoe who he has had a crush on for a long time but has not knew how to approach. He never thought a kid like him who is so socially awkward would get a girlfriend. Cynthia, Connor’s mother provides Evan with home cooked meals, something that he was lacking often since his mother works night shifts at a hospital and attends night classes at least once a week. I know what it’s like to feel alone in school. To feel set apart from the other kids. If I was in a similar situation to Evan I might have done the very same thing. It gives him some fame and popularity in school. Connor’s death brings a lot of the school together which is unusual. Kids who never felt heard before are speaking up, admitting that like Connor and Evan they also have felt alone. I think Dear Evan Hansen is a really important play in a sense because it really touches upon what it’s like to be a highschool student. How hard it can be in terms of socialness.

The reason I think the music in the show guides the characters through life’s ups and downs is that they all really represent the feelings of these characters. Feelings of loneliness and isolation in school and at home. My favorite song is Waving through a Window, the second song in the musical. In it, Evan describes how he never really goes for anything or takes chances in life socially and otherwise because he has learned the hard way that he will only be disappointed. This song has an upbeat rhythm but the underlying words are sad and represent loss of hope. The lyrics are clever and despite its dull meaning the song is catchy. If one listens to the song more closely however, they can also appreciate the sadness in it and relate to some of the things that Even is saying, such as, “Step out, step outta the sun. If you keep gettin’ burned.” (Page 18). These lines truly show how devastating life can be for Evan, which is something each and every one of us can relate to.

Loneliness and Fear

Loneliness is like a vice. In can grip you tight and refuse to let go. It can make you feel like there is nothing in this world worth living for. It is not a pleasant feeling, probably one of the most unpleasant feelings out there. We all feel lonely at times. We also all feel sometimes that we should not take chances because when we’ve tried in the past, we’ve been shot down. This is not a pleasant feeling either and we’re always afraid to try again. Fear can be a vice too. Instead of being disappointed again you simply don’t try. But this is wrong. If we never try we don’t get anywhere. Life is tricky. It will knock you down more times than you can count. The trick is to get up again and keep going until you conquer it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levenson, Steven. Dear Evan Hansen. Theater Communications Group, 2017.

 

Song = Breaking Through A Window by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

 

Plastic Figurines

Sophie MacArthur

Dr. Florescu

July 15, 2018

Plastic Figurines

Reflection

Ella Carmen Greenhill’s Plastic Figurines, first published in 2015, tells the story of two young adult siblings, 18 year-old Michael, and 25-year-old Rose. The story is split off in two different parts both surrounding the illness of their mother and her eventual death from cancer. Rose who has been living away from home for the past couple of years is forced to come home when her mother falls ill to take care of Michael, who is on the Autistic spectrum. This is not easy for Rose who loves her brother but is overwhelmed with the responsibility of having to take over his care while she is still so young herself. It may be harder for her now to have her own life and there’s a part of her that understandably resents this.

As I was reading this play, I was both entertained and saddened by the events. The conversations that the two siblings have can be quite entertaining but there is a underlying sadness to them all. The big blow up that the two siblings have towards the end of the play was a very powerful and saddening moment. It really shows Rose’s frustration in dealing with her difficult brother and his frustration at not quite being able to understand why she is so cross. At one point, Rose even yells at Michael, “I have to pick up the pieces just because they make you act like a fucking retard” (Page 59). Pretty harsh! I guess Rose’s frustrations just blew up at the point. It happens to the best of us after all. Michel doesn’t know how to answer anymore, he just walks away with his hands on his ears and that’s how the scene ends. Wow!

In terms of the meaning of the title, Michael likes playing with plastic figurines in the way that kids on the spectrum typically do. It keeps him calm and gets him into his own world which is common for people on the spectrum when they hone in on something. Therefore, I think the title could have a figurative meaning as well. It is hard for people like Michael on the Autism spectrum to show emotion so maybe he seems almost plastic when talking about his mother since he can’t really seem to express deep sadness over her death. Instead, he goes into his own little bubble and plays with his figurines, further representing a similarity to one of these toys. Rose is more capable of expressing emotion but she has to hold herself back in front of her little brother, which must be difficult. This means that she might kind of be like and feel like a plastic figurine as well.

Cafeteria

(The Previous Year)

Michael and Rose sit on plastic cafeteria chairs eating a meal of cheeseburgers and fries.

Michael: (Glancing up from his plate at his sister.) I wonder how many times Mum will vomit today during her treatment. Last time she vomited twice.

Rose: Micheal! Please don’t talk about that while we’re eating. Besides, it not very nice to predict how many times Mum will get sick during treatment.

Michael: Well, it will probably happen at least once. That’s just reality.

Rose: Still Michael, it’s gross and inappropriate to talk about while we’re eating.

Michael: Why is it inappropriate to talk about while we eat?

Rose: It’s not nice to talk about gross things while someone is eating. It can make people lose their appetite.

Michael: I was just trying to make conversation. You always complain I don’t do that enough whenever we’re together.

Rose (sighing) I appreciate the effort Michel, but there are plenty of other things we can talk about.

Michael: Like what?

Rose: Tell me about the figurine Mum just got you.

Michael: Ok.

Rose: I’m listening. Go ahead!

 

Greenhill, Carmen, Ella. Plastic Figurines. Bloomsbury Publishing PIC, 2015.