New Ramapo theater production was a risk that paid off

Photo courtesy of Kira Constantine.

“A tree, a field, a wood” are three phrases that stand out on the program for Ramapo’s Mainstage production of “DNA” by Dennis Kelly. As you sit in the audience, you feel like you are sitting in a field, amongst the trees, watching a group of high school students create a plan to cover up the suspected murder of one of their classmates.   

The interesting group interact with one another to figure out how they can protect themselves from the potential repercussions of accidentally killing Adam (Matthew Schroeder-Towe). In hopes of staying away from law enforcement, quiet group leader Phil (Casey Giblin) devised a plan: frame an unsuspecting man using DNA evidence.

Fool-proof, they thought, the suspect was made-up, therefore DNA would not be found, and everyone would forget about Adam. However, Adam is found alive. He had been living in a hedge, eating bugs and dirt for nutrition. He tells his shocked classmates that he’s happy where he is. Leah (Julia O’Toole), the talkative and emotional one of the group, begs him to come back to normal life, but he argues. Phil once again comes up with a maniacal plan, one that consists of killing Adam, for real this time, so the group won’t have to worry about any of this ever again. 

Though it wasn’t easy, director Katherine Gavin, a Ramapo senior, worked with the entire student-ran production to turn a story about high school and murder into a thought-provoking piece.  

“One of the hardest parts was deciphering the text. There are long monologue passages that seem to mean absolutely nothing,” Gavin said. “Leah’s (Julia O’Toole) ramblings are long, wordy and nonsensical at a first glance. But when you really look into what she’s saying, her metaphors tie into the themes of the story.”  

A big challenge of being a director is putting your own spin and artistic interpretation on a pre-established story. Gavin says she made this show her own by capturing its intensity. 

“I think that it is really easy for adults to read this show and think about this as a bullying incident, but it reaches so far beyond that,” she said. “I wanted to capture the experience of these teenagers at the stakes they deserve to be handled at."  

“I think that my mark on this piece, and part of what I do as a director, is I want to give their actions the weight they deserve.” 

These regular college students, who have (hopefully) never devised a plan to cover up murder, play their parts extremely well. Sophomore Gaby Henriquez plays Cathy, a sadistic and lethal executioner. Henriquez shared that her biggest challenge of getting into character was “digging deep and finding what it takes to be convincingly ruthless.” 

“Most people look at me and wouldn’t expect me to play someone like Cathy at all,” she said. “She slaps people, resorts to violence, and will do anything to reach her end goal: fame.”   

Henriquez, along with the rest of their co-stars, dive into the nitty-gritty of their characters and really convince the audience of the story. Even with such an intense story, there were ways to find comedic relief in the script and characters.  

“My favorite light-hearted moment was my ‘get on the telly!’ line,” Henriquez shared. “‘DNA’ is a play originally meant to be performed by actors with British accents, but for our rendition, our director decided to set the play in New Jersey.  

“This line, though short, was my chance to bring light to an otherwise dark play and make a cute joke that resonated with people who occasionally will use a British accent for comedic effect.” Henriquez’s British accent did evoke a chuckle from the audience, and it was well deserved. 

Ramapo’s production of “DNA” was remarkable, and it once again proved that theater and performing arts are alive and well, even during Covid. The theater department has more upcoming shows this spring, so if you didn’t have the chance to watch “DNA,” come out and support your talented peers at the next production!