During the talkback following the first public performance Are You There, George?, a one-woman play designed to be performed in living rooms, one audience member brought up the bygone concept of the “drawing room play.” In Victorian times, playwrights would write plays with small casts and simple production needs so that people could perform them in their own houses, with family and friends. It was a step up in complexity from reading books out loud, another way for ordinary people to entertain themselves at home.
“Drawing room plays” have gone the way of, well, drawing rooms. In an era when technology can expand the possibilities for theatrical arts, Iowa City actress/playwright Maria Vorhis and director Kaitlyn Busbee are drawn to the idea of producing theatre in the most intimate setting possible. “We thought about all of the movies we watched in this room,” explained Busbee while sitting in Vorhis’ living room. “Why can’t theatre be more like film?”
For one hour, fourteen people squeezed together in that very same room to watch a play. The “lighting booth” was a laptop in a side hallway. The setting was a blanket fort standing in for the bunk bed of Natalie, a 12-year-old girl who has one singular goal in life — to finally grow boobs. Vorhis portrayed Natalie’s story in 39 scenes, but almost never left her kneeling position within this inner bed sheet sanctum.
The bunk bed serves as Natalie’s hiding place, library, exercise room and most importantly, her chapel. With an atheist father and Christian mother, Natalie decides that she wants to worship the Lord in her own way. She calls him George after hearing her friends refer to the Divine by other names, like Father and Hashem. She is prays to George hoping that it will hasten puberty, and even resorts to animal sacrifice (sort of). As Natalie’s prayers continue, however, she unwittingly reveals deeper concerns about her parent’s marriage and her own spirituality.
Though the production has an extremely limited physical space, Vorhis plays Natalie with gusto, using animated gestures and facial expressions to embody a young teen girl who hasn’t yet learned that “the world is not made of magic.” One look from Vorhis is enough to elicit both guffaws and sympathy pains from our teenage years. She contorts herself to fill the space in every possible way, leading one audience member to remark, “This is a very physical show for not being a physical show.”
Vorhis explained that she took inspiration from diaries her mother kept while she was a child. She wanted her script to capture the innocence of the early teen years. “That kid has no subtext,” said Vorhis. The result is a play that has an outrageous sense of humor, but also perfectly captures the feeling of a teenager who earnestly believes that all areas of her life will improve if she can gain control of one thing. It is a belief that all adults can relate too, no matter their cup size.
Busbee and Vorhis hope to create a theatrical experience that runs counter to what audiences are used to having. “Right now, we go to a theatre, see a show, and leave,” said Busbee. “It should be more communal.” They envision the perfect “living room show” as one where a group of friends gathers at a home for good food, a live performance, and interesting conversation. They currently have four living room shows booked.
For those who do not have access to a private show at a friend’s house, they will have a July 12 performance at the Englert with the audience seated on stage. Wherever they see Are You There, George?, audiences will experience big entertainment thanks to two women who dared to think small.
To book a living room show, visit areyoutheregeorge.weebly.com.
Correction (6:14 p.m.): A previous version of this article mis-attributed the photo, shown above. This photo was taken by Miriam Alarcón Avila, not Adam Burke as previously written. Little Village regrets this error.