By Sarah Stortz
Three young girls set off to play outside, fully submerged in their innocence. Unfortunately, their innocence is ultimately stripped away when one of the girls goes missing. With the two remaining sisters now grown into women, the tragedy has caught up to them and forces them to reflect on their childhoods.
The University of Iowa Theater Department will première the original work Found at 8 p.m. today in Theater B as a part of its Gallery Season.
Years ago, Diana and Tabitha Haskel mysteriously lose their middle sister, Fiona, while playing together as children. As adults, the two sisters live together, with Diana beginning her own crime podcast and Tabitha working as a dog handler who helps search for the remains of missing people. One day, Diana approaches Tabitha to tell her that she wants the next episode on her podcast to be about their missing sister.
Primarily set in the sisters’ home, the wooden interior and faint guitar strumming paints a Southern Gothic picture, giving the audience a backdrop of a small town with a dark history.
Playwright Margot Connolly, who is working toward an M.F.A degree in playwriting, said she wanted to create a murder-mystery play after her younger sister showed her the podcast My Favorite Murder. The series mentioned the book No Stone Unturned, which is focused on necrosearch and early forensic investigation.
“I found both of those situations really interesting, and I was interested in looking at sisters and what happens to our relationship, to our childhood when we leave it,” Connolly said.
While creating the piece last year, she needed to figure out how properly to tie up the mystery.
“I was really focused on the initial draft, [where] the ending comes up super quick, and I’m typing up all the loose ends on this one scene because I was afraid of what would happen if I couldn’t explain the mystery and just let it be a mystery,” Connolly said. “As we’ve worked on it further, and as we’ve developed it further, I’ve gotten more comfortable with allowing there to be unanswered questions, to a certain extent.”
Director Morgan Grambo, who is pursuing an M.F.A in dramaturgy, is making her début as a director with Found.
“Immediately, I connected with [the play,]” Grambo said. “The play has changed itself, which I think has changed all of our perceptions.”
She said she was grateful to work with the cast that was chosen for the production.
“They’re all very skilled at what they do, and they bring a lot to their particular part,” Grambo said. “There’s clarity to what’s on the page, and they get it.”
Outside of the cast, Grambo said, the technical crew significantly enhances the mood of the show. Sound is especially prominent, with haunting cassette tapes being played over scenes, revealing components of the mystery.
“[The tech is] not complex, but it’s super integral,” Grambo said. “We have a great design team, and their visions of things that they’re doing thematically with the play are so conducive with each other.”
Connolly noted that the majority of the technical crew is composed of women, which, she said, works in the show’s favor
“It is inherently a female story,” she said. “It’s a female-driven play, and it’s nice to have a female-driven team. It’s really useful in a university environment to model gender parity, and to be like, ‘Yes, it’s totally possible to have an all-female team,’ and that doesn’t mean compromising anything. It’s not hard to do if you look in the right place.”
UI senior Yannik Encarnação plays the role of Dan Trencher, a convicted criminal just released from prison. Trencher is set up as the No. 1 suspect in the girl’s disappearance.
While delving into his character, Encarnação said, he struggled to relate with the ugly aspects of Dan.
“Dan is a sex offender; the reason he gets sent to prison in the first place is because of a sex crime,” he said. “It’s hard to play that kind of character and it’s hard to put yourself in the mindset of justifying, because that’s what we do when you’re acting, you justify the actions of the character in your own head. It doesn’t have to make sense to you as a person, but as the character, you have to have justifications for why you did everything.”
Because of the mysterious tone of the script, Encarnação said, rehearsals often leaves him with a surprise.
“This is a unique play in terms of its setup,” he said. “Every time I run through it, I feel like I’m discovering something new, even though I know what’s going to happen.”
Throughout the play, both Tabitha and Diana yearn for proper closure, though they diverge in direction. Diana attempts to find the reasoning behind Fiona’s disappearance, while Tabitha tries to move past the event.
The lights dim whenever a sister presents a monologue related to the past, casting a strong shadow on her face, almost as if she’s being consumed by guilt.
While they immediately can’t find a resolution to Fiona’s disappearance, the women’s strong sisterhood helps them understand each other’s individual grief. In Tabitha’s words, “Everyone deserves to be found.”