I wish I could write a sparkling review for Eastern Connecticut University’s production of “Pluto”. In fact, I spent a large portion of my night trying to think of something substantial that would help outweigh my qualms about the production. There was Mason Beiter’s remarkable and terrifying final monologue to the audience, the strong comradery between the actors of the ensemble, a gorgeous set design, and the beautiful idea of a mother’s love being so powerful that it can see beyond the most terrible of things. However, I cannot bring myself self to write that good review. Despite “Pluto’s attempts to tell a new and powerful story, as an audience member, I have never felt so horrified watching a production. Tonight, I witnessed the production of a script which included victim blaming, a plethora of jokes that I feel became increasingly more and more in poor taste as the show went on, and an expectation for the audience to sympathize with a mass shooter. No matter how badly I feel for a mother and the cross she now must bear, I cannot bring myself to sympathize with a mass shooter. Maybe I am too driven by my refusal to become desensitized by the day to day reality of life in the United States. Either way, the facts remain this: In the first 30 days of 2019, there have been 27 mass shootings in the United States, resulting in 44 deaths, and at least 89 non-fatal injuries. Whose stories do we need to be telling? Reply
I wish I could write a sparkling review for Eastern Connecticut University’s production of “Pluto”. In fact, I spent a large portion of my night trying to think of something substantial that would help outweigh my qualms about the production. There was Mason Beiter’s remarkable and terrifying final monologue to the audience, the strong comradery between the actors of the ensemble, a gorgeous set design, and the beautiful idea of a mother’s love being so powerful that it can see beyond the most terrible of things. However, I cannot bring myself self to write that good review.
Despite “Pluto’s attempts to tell a new and powerful story, as an audience member, I have never felt so horrified watching a production. Tonight, I witnessed the production of a script which included victim blaming, a plethora of jokes that I feel became increasingly more and more in poor taste as the show went on, and an expectation for the audience to sympathize with a mass shooter. No matter how badly I feel for a mother and the cross she now must bear, I cannot bring myself to sympathize with a mass shooter. Maybe I am too driven by my refusal to become desensitized by the day to day reality of life in the United States.
Either way, the facts remain this: In the first 30 days of 2019, there have been 27 mass shootings in the United States, resulting in 44 deaths, and at least 89 non-fatal injuries.
Whose stories do we need to be telling?
You missed the entire point of the play as well as all the symbolism. It’s fine if you didn’t enjoy it, but at least know why.
The only thing worse than a two hour show without an intermission is a two hour show without an intermission that features characters doing nothing but talking about unnecessary bullshit for the first hour and a half, and that’s what Pluto was. While the subject matter of school shooting is extraordinarily important, Pluto fails to capture attention enough to spark any discussion on it.
I want to make it clear that Eastern Connecticut’s cast did the best they could do with a script that suffers from horrid pacing problems. Everyone had developed and strong characters, and the actors played off each other extraordinarily well, and the few interesting moments, mainly the scenes with Meghan Campbell (Maxine), were wonderful to watch. Those scenes were interesting because they had action, and the characters had very clear goals that drove them forward and motivated them. Disappointingly the rest of the show seemed to lack that. The set was very impressive, considering they had to load it in to a foreign theater
When it comes down to it I just could not recommend anyone to see this show. The playwright seemed to think that action could be replaced with the heavy topical issue of school shootings, and while it’s an important issue that should be discussed, putting this issue in a poorly written play is a horrible way to start that discussion. Like I said, props to the cast and crew for doing their best, but I doubt anyone could make me enjoy a production of this show (though a good way to start is by putting in an intermission).
Reviewed by Dylan Bowden
“The whole solar system changed, and I survived, didn’t I?” says Elizabeth, a struggling single mother who just wants to live her life normally.
“Pluto”, by Steve Yockey, is a mother’s journey toward acceptance that tackles such difficult subjects as mental illness, domestic abuse, school shootings, and the relationships that unfold under these terrible circumstances.
Elizabeth, the mother of a school shooter, encounters her son’s dead victims while being guarded by a mythical three-headed dog, and while even facing Death himself. As an audience member, my heart ached for Elizabeth as she trudged through the seven stages of grief: denial, guilt, anger, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction, and acceptance.
“Pluto” was performed on a white monochromatic set containing some very radical features – including an upside-down cherry tree. In Japanese culture, a cherry blossom symbolizes not just the brevity of life, but also its renewal. The inclusion and placement of this tree was a fabulous addition to the show – vividly expressing that Elizabeth’s acceptance of her son’s actions does not mean her life is over.
Though the exposition of the show was lengthy, and it sometimes ran slowly, I felt that each character served an essential purpose in the production, and each had his or her individual tics. The actor who portrayed Bailey, Elizabeth’s son, for example, captured moments of dissociation very well.
The emotional strain between the actors made for a very intense show. The strain began early in the play, using the edgy dynamic between Elizabeth and her son to shine a light on Bailey’s mental illness. Maxine’s entrance was very ominous – later in the show, we realize that Maxine is one of Bailey’s victims. The tension between victim and aggressor felt convincingly familiar, imbuing the fact that they had known each other long before the shooting occurred with a depth and poignancy that was beautifully captured.
Throughout the show, the calming voice of the three-headed dog, Cerberus, helped to keep the audience grounded. Without Cerberus, Pluto would have been much too intense. With the tempering effect of his voice of reason, each character became easier to understand and more relatable.
Well done, Eastern Connecticut State University cast and crew.
Angela Tricarico | University of New Haven
Nothing about the day depicted in Eastern Connecticut State University’s production of Steve Yockey’s Pluto was ordinary, despite how many times Elizabeth Miller (Elizabeth Heaney) remarked that the day was any ordinary day. With radios turning on and off, shaking refrigerators and astrophysics, small talk, and long pauses that always seemed to last just too long, Pluto is topical, dealing with mass shootings at schools, a subject matter that is unfortunately relevant to audiences in 2019, five years after the play was first performed.
In a suburban kitchen in the home of a widowed mother and her college-aged son, the radio flickers on without being touched. A news report plays, stating a mass shooting took place at a nearby school and Bailey Miller (Mason Beiter) hastily shuts it off before the report can finish. The first forty minutes of the two hour play are tedious, as Elizabeth tries to make small talk with her unwilling son. The effort leaves Elizabeth and Bailey going in circles and tangents about Pop-Tarts and Coca Cola without much substance for too long, until finally Bailey convinces Elizabeth to explain in detail how his father died. Nothing pushes the plot forward for a long time, even as weird things continue to happen in the Miller’s home, like their three-headed dog speaking strangely or the refrigerator spasming, glove-clad hands threatening to break out of it. So much of the small talk was unnecessary, especially considering the show did not have an intermission.
Pluto, be it intentional or not, humanized a school shooter. He was depicted in a way that had audience members empathizing with him, and then feeling horrible for having done so as soon as his true intentions and actions were revealed.
I wish I could say that elements of this specific production made up for every area when the text falls flat, but it’s simply not true. In a lot of spots, acting fell flat. Beiter’s final monologue was chilling, but up until then, there wasn’t much in his performance beyond a droll tone and a general disinterest for everything happening around him. Meghan Campbell had the most affecting performance as Maxine Sailors, a former friend of Bailey’s, and current popular girl at their school. The first few times audiences see Maxine, she is commanding and terrifying, but her reasons for being so are unclear. Once those reasons become clear, Campbell’s performance reaches new heights. The set also did not help the actors much, as an island in the kitchen interrupted most of the staging by being awkwardly place. All of the action that wasn’t at the kitchen table had to take place behind or around the island, which didn’t even serve a purpose usage-wise.
In a time where mass shootings are a more pressing issue than ever outside of the theater, Pluto feels out of touch with our actual reality, even if it claims to be portraying that.
Review by Jhada-Ann Walker
As the show opens, the enchanting colorful lights from the cyclorama lit up the neatly done kitchen scenery. However, this was just a contrast for the plot of “Pluto”, a tragedy by Steve Yockey. The cast from Eastern Connecticut State University presented a combination of planetary metaphors, magic and dark incident of school violence. The surreal, supernatural, and bizarre story reflects one of the most heartfelt tragedies that occurs in today’s world.
The technical aspect of this show was very functional to the suspense of a dark ending. The light changes for each mood (blues to reds), the sound effects for the gunshots or for the vibrating Refrigerator and the subtle music playing in the background foreshadows the sinister of a normal day. The Radio Voice/ Death had the most outstanding costume, an overall suit with gloves and an astronaut looking helmet over a well tailored suit with intricate designs. This really sold his character.
Cerberus, the Dog seemed fictitious because it lacked costume, props and makeup. The actors on a whole had a low energy which could have been otherwise if deep characterization was implemented. The characters didn’t match the roles and the story began to feel mundane and less authentic.
However, as the plot develops and the climax was over the tragic message was appreciated. The play had some fun moments where the director, F. Chase Rozelle III did well on, for example, when the dog began to dance with the umbrella the high jumps tells that it was a big dog before it was mentioned. Also the grand entrance of Death from a cold portal can be compared to the urge for warmth by a fireplace in the winter. The scene when Maxine killed Bailey with his mother trying to prevent it, was just full of energy and movement and it just represents the tug and war that takes place in such a moment.
However, the cry of the mother over her son’s death was not believable at all; it was rather funny to watch. I could for a second put myself in the scene and experience the frightening gunshots fired and understand the traumatic feeling the victims or bystanders endure. This experience should be handled seriously and with care to others who may have a weak heart as one explosion can change a person’s sanity.
PLUTO presented by Eastern Connecticut State University
Review by Andrea Vargas – Rhode Island College
“Pluto” evokes all the emotions we experience when death knocks at our door – or our refrigerators. As soon as you walk into the theater you are met by a large white and cream kitchen. We see this kitchen with an upside-down cherry blossom tree that everyone has in their kitchen – naturally. Soon into the show, we find out this day is NOT like any other day. Walking into the theater, you are greeted by a character on stage with their head in their lap! By the end of the show, the audience finally finds out the secret identity behind this character, who we quickly find out is not just the “family dog”.
All characters brought a certain level of intensity that made me uncomfortable in the best way possible. The story focuses on the levels of grief a mother goes through in the death of a child, but also incorporates the gun violence we unfortunately are still seeing in schools, as well as mental health, bullying, and a couple of Greek myths for good measure. While I was disappointed to find myself drifting in and out of the story due to the unnecessary exposition, I was happy to say that the play really picks up once the audience is finally confronted with the truth of one of our main characters evil actions (which were hinted to the audience the entire first hour of the play). Once we reach our rising action, it’s just a wild ride to the end of the show. The resolution left me feeling almost a sense of calm. We were just taken on a full journey through the eyes of a mother who has just gone through something terrible, all within a single instant (That’s right! The entire show takes place at 9:30am and the time never changes.)
The white palette of the kitchen with the colors flashing on the scrim were great ideas by both the lighting designer and set designer! I have never been moved emotionally by colors alone in a show. I really enjoyed these nuanced ideas that may seem simple to those who have not experienced theatre, but for me, it is all in the details. Speaking of details, I really enjoyed “Death’s” costumes and I genuinely jumped in my seat as he emerged from what we will just call “Hell” to avoid spoilers! I would love to say that regardless of what I felt about the script, I thoroughly enjoyed this cast. While I don’t have a name to give credit to, the director of this show was magnificent, and every moment made me feel each beat of the show. Nothing was done without purpose and it clearly showed in this moving piece.
*Did not receive a program for this performance.
Jamie Roberts Final Review of: “Pluto”
By Steve Yockey
Eastern Connecticut State University at KCACTF Region 1
January 30th, 2019
As Emma Gonzalez, American activist and Parkland, FL school shooting survivor said, “we call BS.” Beware of this mature content that “Pluto” at the Kennedy Centre American College Theatre Region 1 Festival addresses using tactics of anticipation and time traveling. The program neglects to provide us with a trigger warning for the gunshots and pressing topic of a school shooting. This contemporary play explores the motherhood of Elizabeth Miller (Elizabeth Heaney) when her child, Bailey Miller (Mason Beiter) commits a school shooting that questions her reality. “Pluto” analyzes the themes of unhappiness, greif, and seeing reality.
After nearly thirty minutes into the play we began to get into the action of “Pluto.” The actors and actresses had impeccable flexibility in going from moment-to-moment that can be credited with acceptable direction. The first scene fascinated me in which Beiter walks in the door and without words, communicates to us that the tree and dog are out of the ordinary. Beiter also made some distinctive and notable acting choices in his monologue towards the end. He had a tense physicality meshed with his conscious play in pitch of his voice that captivated me to hear his story. Heaney did an acceptable job, unfortunately her physique and voice did not match the age and maturity of her mother character. The major problem with this play is that the viewpoint is from a sympathetic and loving mother of the shooter when America needs a play that will not encourage our numbness to this ongoing phenomenon.