By KEVIN CHRISTOPHER ROBLES
The characters of the latest play to grace the stage of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), Regina Taylor’s “Magnolia,” are a rowdy bunch, unsatisfied with their lot in life and yearning to go out into the world. Yet, so many of them struggle with leaving their past behind them, the roots of their Magnolia plantation so strong that it often feels like they are being pulled under the Earth. This push-pull between the past and the present, staying and leaving, stagnation and evolution is central to the story’s hope and tragedy. Despite the lack of confidence that its characters show and their oft-cowardice in the face of life’s tribulations, the show’s behind-the-scenes work is, apropos of its pedigree, just the opposite.
“Magnolia” is slickly-acted, extremely efficient and incredibly well-produced, owing in no small part to the intense and personal involvement of its creator, Dr. Regina Taylor. Described as “marvellous” by cast member Eliana Rowe, FCLC ’20, who plays the governess Carlotta, it is more than clear that the cast greatly admires their director.
“Dr. Regina Taylor is incredible,” said Rowe in an interview. “I think that her process is so interesting because she’s the writer of the play and also the director. Working with someone who’s written their own work is very different from working with a director who’s working on a piece that’s not their own. I think that the way that she’s handled that ownership and distinction between playwright and director has been marvellous.”
Indeed, this turned out to be a recurring theme. Dr. Taylor’s unique nature as a writer-director seemed to turn “Magnolia” from a standard-issue Fordham play into something on a level of its own.
“We come together before we even get into the work,” continued Rowe, speaking about Dr. Taylor’s methodology for getting her actors ready to perform. “At the end of every single rehearsal, we all join together and we take each other’s hands and we breathe together and look at each other and take each other in and remind ourselves why we’re doing this work.” There is a reverence that surrounds Dr. Taylor, one that every member of the production seems to take to heart.
The stage manager, Jen Leary, FCLC ’20, echoed these sentiments. “I have never seen her get upset,” said Leary. “Regina is so professional and so wonderful to work with and so supportive, because this is a learning environment and I might not be [at] a hundred percent all the time.”
With that, another aspect of Dr. Taylor reveals her to be an extremely effective mentor figure. Her vast knowledge of drama, coupled with the fact that she created the show that the cast and crew have been hard at work at crafting, allows her to be an effective teacher. “She totally understands that and she’s there to help me along the way and show me what it’s like to be a professional working in this industry,” continued Leary.
Dr. Taylor’s role in the process cannot be overstated and her vision reverberates through all aspects of the production. Leary described the process as surprisingly tech-intensive, with three projectors, more lighting fixtures than would regularly be in use, and a huge amount of sound cues.
There are additional things to worry about in the production; the actors sing and dance, with the cast performing diegetic instrumentations and “musical numbers,” which is not something that is regularly done with straight plays.
“This show utilizes the whole stage, which not many shows here at Fordham do,” said Leary.
Because they were working directly with the person who wrote the play, it became clear that Dr. Taylor knew exactly what she wanted and where she wanted it, whether that was in relation to props, lights, cues or players. One of the hardest parts, it turned out, was learning to say no.
“I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to some people,” said Leary, of some of Dr. Taylor’s requests. She described a time when Dr. Taylor needed a specific scene transition that was impossible to pull off without more crew, and the confidence that came with learning to be able to say it. “Learning how to say no and telling her that it had to be done a different way was a really great learning experience for me,” concluded Leary.
“Magnolia” is a team effort, but every team needs a leader. Dr. Regina Taylor fills that role with gusto, acting as both mentor and teacher to everyone in the cast and crew. With her guidance, the “Magnolia” cast and crew created a play that was the fulfillment of their shared artistic vision, and created a microcosm of the best of what Fordham’s theater department has to offer.