The show, which ran last Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, was performed in Studio 3 of Webster Hall. The packed audience was treated to an assortment of character pieces with such varying titles as Fox’s “The Man Who Didn’t Own a Hat Shop” and Cho’s “The Demon Lover.”
In “The Man Who Didn’t Own a Hat Shop,” Katherine Duke ’05 and Philip J. Tucker ’03E portrayed strangers in a coffee shop attempting to figure out what constitutes truth and what constitutes fiction. “The Demon Lover” also focused on a character’s analysis. The sock puppet Ed, portrayed by Carl Angiolillo ’04, helped Raymond (Conor O’Sullivan ’04) understand how his relationship with Sally (Jaime Atteniese ’04) had gone so drastically wrong.
Fox’s “And Counting” was a particularly moving piece examining relationships and emotions on the brink of the new millennium. The soulful and introspective approach that Liz Jennings ’02, Sarah Miller ’03, Gautam Bhan ’02 and Tucker brought to their roles was a magnificent end to the evening.
Performed during Homecoming weekend, “Duetting” was seen by students, parents and alumni alike. Also in the audience were Fox and Cho, who traveled from Manhattan to see their works produced at their alma mater. Fox and Cho were not involved in the directing or planning of this production and did not know what to anticipate. Overall, they were impressed.
“It was fun to come back,” Fox said. “Only one other time have I walked into a room and had no idea what to expect. As a playwright, you live to see your play done well. There were really some nice surprises.”
Fox and Cho have been busy since their graduations several years ago, persistently writing and promoting their plays. This Homecoming, they were given a chance to reflect on the influence of their time at the College on their current work.
Fox trots into plays
Fox had writing and theater in her blood long before her arrival at Amherst, due in large part to her parents’ Manhattan roots. Fox was drawn to theater and acted a great deal in high school. “I had a lot of opportunities to see it growing up,” she said.
After taking playwriting classes at Amherst and Smith and participating in an intensive week-long summer program at Vassar between sophomore and junior year, her vocation was confirmed.
An English major who wrote a play titled “Nothing Revolutionary” for her senior thesis, Fox described her playwriting experience at Amherst as both “an inspiration and a struggle.” She credits Playwright-in-Residence Constance Congdon for introducing her to the art. “She was a huge influence on me by teaching us how to sit down and write plays. She started me off,” she said.
Fox also credits Congdon’s support with helping to create her thesis. “I had a lot of struggles getting a play established as my thesis because of my major. The English department was not very supportive of playwriting,” she said. “However, Connie’s assistance made it a lot easier.”
While at Amherst, Fox also worked at the Woodside Daycare Center, was Co-president of Hillel and participated in Peer Advocates. She also studied abroad in London for a semester in her junior year, where she saw many plays that helped to craft her work.
Today, Fox supplements her true playwrighting with tutoring work and by teaching at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan, a school for professional adults who want to learn to write.
A member of a company called Youngblood, Fox works in collaboration with a group of emerging writers who meet weekly to read, critique and support each other’s work. Having written several one-act and three full-length plays, Fox’s play “Summer Cyclone” was produced off-Broadway last January and February at the Ensemble Studio Theater.
“It was a very big leap for me: a professional debut with a professional cast, a full month run, and the opportunity to be reviewed,” she said. “It was extremely exciting.” The play, a story about a woman with breast cancer who falls in love with a younger medical student, will be published by Dramatist Play Service this spring.
She has also adapted some of her plays to become screenplay, and was commissioned by Merchant Ivory Productions Company to create an entire screenplay based on one of her one-acts, entitled “Heights.”
“When a play is produced for the first time the writer is very involved,” Fox explained. “I was at the auditions and at most of the rehearsals. First-time productions are interested in collaborating with the playwright, which allowed me to help shape the play as I had envisioned it.”
For Fox, playwrighting is more than just a job-it fulfills her passion. “[It’s not about] getting up on a soapbox and writing issue plays, but instead to portray things as human as possible.”
Fox points to the excitement and critical acclaim that her pieces are receiving as being partly due to her strong female characters. One of her pieces included in “Duetting” was “Events of the World.” This scene discussed the issue of women being discouraged to go to graduate schools in the 1960s in order for more men to be able to enroll, thus avoiding the draft.
Fox explores feminist matters in several of her pieces, which she said is natural. “There are issues-like women’s issues-that are really important to me, and they will come up in my plays. Not necessarily to make a point, but to give a voice,” she said.
Cho chooses theater
Cho is a self-affirmed late-bloomer in theater. “I never saw theater growing up. I equated it with bad Shakespeare,” she said. But in a summer program in the middle of high school, Cho attended a performance of John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” “I don’t know why it moved me so much, but it was just a magical thing that happened when I saw this show,” said Cho. “It made me interested in theater.”
At Amherst, Cho took a course in contemporary American playwrights with Congdon. Though she enjoyed it and later realized that Congdon had “planted a seed” in her, she didn’t consider theater to be a possible career path at the time. “I was really happy doing English literature, and figured that I was on a track to become an academic my whole life, which was fine with me,” she said.
But it was during her junior year abroad in England that Cho began to think about the effect that plays had on her. “I remember seeing two plays in one day, an Albee and a Shakespeare, and it was just like the time in high school,” she said. “I realized this is what I love. Plays make me happy.”
After graduating from Amherst, Cho attended the University of California at Berkeley, with the assumption that she would get a Ph.D. in English literature. “I thought I would write plays and be an academic, but I found that it was hard to devote the deserved attention to being both analytic and creative in the same subject at the same time,” she said.
With the help of some encouraging professors and friends, Cho completed a master’s thesis in English literature, and then enrolled in New York University’s dramatic writing program. After two and a half years, she received her MFA.
The past six months have been successful for Cho. Her work with the New York Theater Workshop in Manhattan, which gave her a fellowship and provided a forum for her to stage a reading, has encouraged her to continue on this creative path. One of Cho’s plays is entitled “Ninety Nine Histories”; it tells the story of a young pregnant woman who returns home to decide whether or not to keep her baby. Cho described it as a play “about the anxieties of what we pass on, and the memories and history and imagination that we want to give.”
“Ninety Nine Histories” was one of eight works accepted into the prestigious Sundance Theater Lab, where Cho spent all of this past July, working with leading directors and actors. She characterized it as something that changed her life. “I met amazing people there who encouraged and embraced me,” said Cho. “I remember one incredible director pulling me aside and whispering, ‘Have no fear, this is beautiful. You are a writer.'”
Now living in Brooklyn, Cho divides her days between attending a playwriting program at Juilliard, teaching workshops, temporary administrative work and working on several plays that she has been commissioned to write from theaters around the country.
Cho is still surprised that her path in life directed her toward playwriting. “It’s been a strange journey, and, for a long time, it wasn’t clear that I was destined to do this.”
Cho spoke emotionally of the rare moments that, in rehearsals or in performances, move and touch her. “Accomplishments will come and go; I realized that I have no control over them. But it’s those special moments that keep me inspired,” she said.