“Has a dude ever peed in your vag?” This is the provocative question posed at the beginning of Eight Feet. In this engaging drama-comedy written by Rafi Abrahams ’13 and directed by Rachel Alter ’14, four college students trapped in a basement bedroom during a snowstorm find themselves reconciling this urine-related trauma. Love triangles, confessions, and burdensome insecurities are exposed throughout this powerful production that ran from February 21 to March 1.
In late February, the play was fittingly staged in the basement of a house on Edwards Place, with room for just 20 audience members each night. Set details such as posters, Tibetan flags and bedside clutter made even the bleakest basement feel homey. The natural esthetics of the basement—echoing acoustics, industrial lighting, and intermittent buzzing noises—created an intimate and vividly realistic viewing experience. Alter made economical and effective use of space and stage-set. In one scene, for example, two characters venture outside the house and communicate into the basement through a small window on the back wall of the set.
We first meet Anna (Caroline Slutsky ’14) and Soo-Jin (Charmaine Lee ’14) when they come bounding downstairs into the basement, using the same narrow, creaky staircase that audience members used to enter the unconventional theater. Anna explains to Soo-Jin that a boy peed inside of her vagina and agonizes about how she feels like a human urinal. Nate (Jake Tempchin ’14), the boy (but “not boyfriend”) with whom Soo-Jin is romantically involved, and Phil (Scot Tasker ’16), an aspiring poet, soon join the two girls. The central tension unfolds when Anna recognizes Nate as the perpetrator of the urination, though he fervently denies this.
The characters, though not at all similar in nature, all have one thing in common—they all surreptitiously seek affirmation about their physical forms. Anna’s appearance is very calculated, yet she feels profoundly dejected because of her unusual sexual experience; she makes herself vulnerable by having sex with someone, and she interprets the urination as the boy’s subconscious rejection of her body. Anna prompts Soo-Jin for verification of her sexual desirability.
Soo-Jin, who appears to be the most mature and composed, is also struggling with insecurities, as she allows herself to be passive about her affections for Nate. Nate seeks affirmation most aggressively by his demand for attention from both Soo-Jin and Anna. Tasker, through his poetic diction and detached whimsical commentary made an eccentric and convincing Phil. Phil provides comedic relief to Anna, Soo-Jin and Nate’s tottering love triangle. He seeks affirmation about his appearance in the plainest manner; by straight out asking Nate if he finds him to be a “comely man.”
Abrahams succeeded in constructing characters to fit perfectly with the styles and tempos of the actors who brought them to life. The performance felt genuine. But of course this may simply be the illusion projected by the talented actors, whose real life personas are of course far less insecure and much more charming than the sometimes unhinged roles they convincingly portray. Notable moments in the drama built off of the witty dialogue and on-stage direction—for example, Soo-Jin’s poignant glances of jealousy at Anna and Nate during their flirtations and Phil’s aloof expressions of wonder endured throughout otherwise tense moments.
The clear chemistry between the actors shined through and created a cohesive display of Abrahams’ visions for these characters. In fact, some of the play’s most endearing moments grew organically from the cast members themselves during moments of improvisation. For example, Phil’s decision to experimentally rub lubricant on his knee when left alone in the basement was a spontaneous decision made by Tasker during the first performance. Tempchin’s repetition of the line “this is not the dude!” when being attacked by Anna was another winning piece of improvisation that was incorporated into the script.
Playwright Edward Albee once said that no two people see the same play the same way. This is especially true of Eight Feet. Because this play was performed in such an intimate setting, the viewer’s relationship to the artists involved had a strong and personal impact. On a college campus made even more intimate by the audience’s familiarity with these actors, it was possible to test Albee’s claim. When asked about the variations in response of the audience, Abrahams said that he felt there were differences in reaction according to the number in the audience who knew the performers. One friend of Tempchin’s (Nate) joked that he saw the play as a literal depiction of his persona. Each audience member brings with them their own personal saga and outlook, some of which align with those of the characters, and some that do not. As Eight Feet shows us, despite our grotesqueries and differences, what brings us together is our quest for personal, human connection.
Though all characters employ different methods to obtain affirmation and create personal connections, they all struggle with the same insecurities. Eight Feet helps us realize that our physicalities are arbitrarily preordained, and seeking external affirmation of one’s self can be destructive. In the final moments of the play, Nate suggests that there are so many attributes that are inherited at birth (skin color, bone structure, etc.), that we should at least be able to control the calluses on our own feet. However, Nate realizes that—shy of a “rejuvenating” Brookstone Aqua Jet Foot Spa—we may have to accept that we are born to be callus-prone.
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Eight Feet was written by Rafael Abrhams, Nassau Weekly Editor-in-Chief Emeritus. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.