In light of the fast-approaching Valentine’s Day, many are in the mood for sentimental romance. However, I wouldn’t see The Woolgatherer if you’re looking for a conventional and sweet romantic play. This play shows so much more: the heavy complexities of love, lust, and the abnormalities that bring people together in a poetic way. Two people, Rose and Cliff meet at the 5 & dime where Rose works in Philadelphia. Cliff is a trucker, just passing by the city while he waits for his rig to be fixed and meets Rose, a store clerk with a series of strange habits who lives a sheltered life her apartment. The play opens with Rose walking into her apartment with Cliff, telling him about how the previous tenant committed suicide in the apartment. It then follows this trend of very peculiar conversation, as they find more about each other and their own selves. Rose is a complex woman, whose secrets and insecurities that often break through the surface only because of Cliff’s constant inquiring. She is a troubled soul; a self-isolated hemophiliac, overly anxious, and uncomfortable with her inner strength and confrontation. Cliff is a direct contrast, living life from “one moment to the next” as a wise-cracking and independent truck driver. His carefree and joking persona disturbs the Rose’s quiet universe and habits and catalyzes her confessions of her past she struggles to bury.
In an especially ambiguous monologue, Rose reveals an event she witnessed where a gang of boys at the zoo jeered and threw stones at birds, killing them, and frightening her so much she had to go to the hospital. She refers back to this event in hysteria and fear, making the audience question whether the killing of the birds stand as a greater metaphor for a personal traumatic experience for Rose. This motif is possibly the most important of the play and the most emphasized, allowing the audience to understand the mental instability of Rose and an incentive for Cliff to understand and soothe her. The Woolgatherer challenges the audiences to understand others, reminding us that behind the human façade lies an ugly past, vulnerability, and hidden dreams.
Stanford Theater Lab made this originally two-act play into a 90 minute one-act featuring sophomores Jamie Helyar as Rose and Moiead Charawi as Cliff. Their performances subtly encapsulate deep vulnerabilities and insecurities of their characters. Jamie plays Rose with moving sensitivity and captures her neurotic and timid persona in a graceful manner. Moiead plays Cliff with a joking, arrogant, and extremely charismatic attitude whose unyielding infatuation with Rose is tangible (and makes the audience root for him). His line to Rose, “Every time I see you, it’s the first time”, made my heart melt. Moiead’s performance is especially notable given this play is his acting debut. Together, they spark chemistry and bring alive the notion of “opposites attract”.
Is The Woolgatherer a romance? Kind of. It displays the painful unpleasantness and difficult stages of getting to know someone. Those extremely peculiar quirks and habits, the disturbing pasts, and the walls we break down to find the goodness in each other. It’s a play about compassion, and the journey we lost souls embark on as we roam the earth for someone who’s as crazy as we are. There are plenty of cathartic scenes in this play- screaming, fighting all included, which add to the theme of the frustration and anxiety of lust and love. It shows the audience: Love is really ugly. It is so often just rip-your-hair-out, throw things, so-frustrating-I-want-to-scream-and-cry, ugly. But in the end, for all of its ugliness, it is equally beautiful.
Photo credits: Allison Gold