FOUNDERS, KEEPERSBy Aurora Behlke
Directed by Caroline Hamilton
Production Stage Manager – Hailey Green
Echo Managing & Artistic Director/SFX Design – Kateri Cale
Producer & CCO – Eric Berg
Scenic Design – Clare DeVries
Costume Design – Ariel Kregal
Lighting Design – Landry Strickland
Props Design – Lynn Mauldin & Rebekka Koepke
Fight Choreographer – Danielle Georgiou
Assistant Director/Understudy – Rowan Gilvie
Technical Director – Dane Tuttle
Deck Czar – Ben Bryant
Tabitha – Rickeya Jones
Gillian – Lauren Floyd
Nicole – Caitlin Chapa
Imogen – Hadley Shipley
Winnie – Kristen Lazarchick
Mysterious Woman/Woman – Allyn Carrell
Reviewed Performance: 9/23/2022
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
So, what do you do when the justice and domestic tranquility mentioned in the preamble to the U.S. constitution devolve into anarchy, and the blessings of liberty to us and future generations teeters on the brink of destruction? One possibility is to assemble a group of 5th-grade girls, sequester them in an abandoned schoolhouse, provide them with very little resource material, and task them with rewriting America’s constitution.
That is the premise of Aurora Behlke’s play “Founders, Keepers,” presented by Echo Theatre. And it is an intriguing concept to have the founding document of the United States government rewritten by young girls, one of the many groups of people (including the girls’ mothers, enslaved African Americans, non-land holding whites, etc.) excluded from the rights delineated by the men who wrote it. Ms. Behlke’s script, the winner of Echo Theatre’s international new play contest for women and playwrights Big Shout Out 3, has been well served by director Caroline Hamilton, who cast a strong group of adult actresses capable of credibly portraying young girls. The pace of the production is crisp and the set, designed by Clare DeVries gives a gone-to-seed look to the schoolroom and attached bathroom and underlines the dire situation these young girls find themselves in. A silhouette of the Capitol Dome flanked by ruins and Landry Strickland’s lighting design hint at the fires that are devasting Washington, DC, and filling the streets with smoke and lawlessness.
Inside the schoolroom, Tabitha (Rickeya Jones), Gillian (Lauren Floyd), Nicole (Caitlin Chapa), Imogen (Hadley Shipley), and Winnie (Kristin Lazarchick) sleep on the floor in sleeping bags, exist on scant rations, deal with the relationship dynamics of the group including who should be in charge of the enterprise, and argue about whether to just amend the existing constitution or throw it out entirely and write a brand new one. There are discussions about friendships and puberty and dealing with a personal loss. There is also a visitation by a Mysterious Woman (Allyn Carrell) telling Tabitha to be true to her own herself. And then there is the end of the play, which seems to negate the entire concept of the play.
That is my main complaint about the script. The idea of young girls rewriting the constitution seems secondary to showing the personal and group undercurrents and comes across as a McGuffin, a device used to begin the action but that becomes subservient to the dramatic narrative taking place because of it. I realize that the interpersonal interactions of the girls sometimes mirror the natural progression of all groups as they struggle to solve a problem. And that the solidarity the group slowly develops is something to be encouraged and applauded by all children. Yet I found the stakes didn’t seem to be high enough and I felt the ending rendered the hope being offered at the conclusion rather hollow.
That having been said, this is a thought-provoking and very well-produced show. And my opinions on the script should not dissuade anyone from seeing it. This is a show that should be seen and discussed. If nothing else, it should be seen for action around the middle of the play that is wildly shocking and weirdly satisfying at the same time. You will know it when you see it.
You must also attend this play for the acting. This group of women operates as a true ensemble, and each of them has their moment to shine. Rickeya Jones makes for a powerful and domineering Tabitha. Her character has been selected to the group as the “diversity candidate,” and though she does not entirely know what that means, the designation drives her to perfection. Ms. Jones easily portrays Tabitha’s strength just by her stance onstage. You know she means business.
Gillian, played by Lauren Floyd, is the brains of the group but struggles to find her voice in the shadow of her friendship with Tabitha. There is a sense of vulnerability that Ms. Floyd gives her character that makes her very appealing. The tough girl with a personal secret that overshadows this whole constitutional project is Nicole, played by Caitlin Chapa with a hardness that slowly softens into respect for the other girls. Ms. Chapa renders this transformation with believability and skill.
Hadley Shipley (They/Them are the preferred pronouns) gives life to Imogen, the painfully shy artist of the group. They imbue the character with a delicate wistfulness that is, eventually, embraced by all the other characters. They also created a preamble to the constitution that is as playful as it is impractical and desirable. The whirlwind that is Winnie is played by Kristen Lazerchick with unbounded quirkiness. Winnie bounces off the walls and whirls from girl to girl, just wanting to be liked and taken seriously. It’s fun to watch this actress inhabit the role. Allyn Carrell switches credibly from loopy weirdness to steel-spined sternness in her dual roles of Mysterious Woman and Woman. She is especially scary in the latter part and great fun to watch.
Despite my disagreements with the script, I came away liking the play a great deal. Echo Theatre has given audiences something to enjoy and to think about. I encourage everyone to come out and support this company which has been a theatrical trailblazer for many years. And maybe you will be inspired to look at our present state of affairs and our constitution and come up with your ideas to make our country better. See “Founders, Keepers” and let me know what you come up with.
September 16 – October 8, 2022
Thursdays – 7:30PM
Friday & Saturday – 8:00PM
Saturday Matinee – 2:00PM
Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E Lawther Dr, Dallas, TX 75218
For tickets and further information contact at 214-546-8736, or visit on the Web at www.echotheatre.org