The curtain will rise beginning Thursday on a production that’s based on historical figures, but not historical fact, at Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse.
Playhouse Creatures begins in 1669 as theatres in England are reopening after 17 years of Puritan suppression under a regime led by Oliver Cromwell. The Restoration Era is beginning with a monarchy re-established under King Charles II, who declares that women—for the first time in England—should be the actors in female-identifying roles.
The play examines five of the most famous actresses of the English stage to provide a moving and often comic account of the trailblazers. The characters include Doll Common, played by Brooklyn Moore ’24; Nell Gwynn, played by Jericho Trevino ’27; Mrs. Mary Betterton, played by Abby Nelson ’24; Mrs. Rebecca Marshall, played by Cameo Green ’24; and Mrs. Elizabeth Farley, played by May Moe Tun ’25.
Playhouse Creatures is the first play slated for the Festival Playhouse’s 60th season, which features a theme of “Systems as Old as Time,” focusing on the harmful systems that hold back the oppressed and how people fight against them. It will highlight the ways that joy, laughter and solidarity can still exist and thrive despite those systems.
“Nell Gwynn, our main character, became an incredibly influential figure in English society, but she starts the show in a very low place, and we see her rise,” said Max Wright ’26, who is serving as the play’s dramaturg. “We also see the difference between the young, new actors and the women who were older after acting early in the Restoration.”
Wright is stepping into a production role for the first time. However, they have been acting since fourth grade and they were a featured actor in the Festival Playhouse show of Othello last year. Their responsibilities for this production include a lobby display that provides basic historical context, a brief look back on women in theater, and a view into the lives that the real-life characters led.
“It’s a very heavy show, but I think a lot of it is about overcoming the constraints that are placed on you and still making your way in the world, while finding your own place despite someone else’s expectations and the hardships you have to go through,” Wright said. “It’s very focused on the community aspect of how women have leaned on each other and the sisterhood of feminism in history.”
The play will be staged at 7:30 p.m. on November 2–4, and at 2 p.m. November 5, in the Festival Playhouse Theatre at 129 Thompson St. Thursday’s show will include American Sign Language interpretation in a performance made possible with support from Theatre Kalamazoo and the James Gilmore Foundation. Tickets are available online or by calling the Festival Playhouse at 269.337.7333. Audiences should be aware that the play’s content includes flashing lights and situations including abortion and simulated violence.
“Theatre in general is a wonderful experience because it tells stories in ways that can’t be done elsewhere,” Wright said. “The aspect of live theatre—of physically seeing a story played out in front of you—is a form of communication that we’ve had throughout history. That is how we share our culture. That is how we share our community. That is how we share the stories of ourselves in our past. This is one of the stories of our past and it was a crucial point in time for women and theatre in general.”